The Biden administration is perpetuating its misguided campaign to preserve, not conserve, America’s natural resources.
On May 7th, the Department of Interior dropped its “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful 2021” plan. It’s viewed as the U.S.’s response to 30X30—a vague, nice-sounding yet potentially problematic initiative to “protect 30 percent of waters and 30 percent of lands” by 2030.
This report is a product of the Biden administration’s January 27th Executive Order 14008 entitled “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.”
For too long, preservationist environmentalists have conflated conservation (wise use of natural resources) with preservation (non-use of natural resources). If the plan proceeds, it’ll shut out true conservationists from stakeholder discussions and give special interests undue influence over natural resources management.
In response, Congressional and Senatorial Western Caucus members have released an alternative plan, Western Conservation Principles, to address the plan’s shortcomings—faulting it for being insufficiently conservationist in nature.
Here’s what it entails.
Addressing America the Beautiful’s Shortcomings
Upon initial review, “America the Beautiful” appears nascent. It promises a “collaborative and inclusive approach to conservation,” “supporting locally led and locally designed conservation efforts,” and “conserving America’s lands and waters for the benefit of all people.”
Principle 6 of the plan even acknowledged the importance of property rights and the contributions of hunters and anglers, stating:
There is a strong stewardship ethic among America’s fishers, farmers, ranchers, forest owners, and other private landowners. U.S. working lands and waters give our nation food and fiber and keep rural and coastal communities healthy and prosperous. They are also integral to conserving functioning habitats and connecting lands and waters across the country… [The Biden administration recognizes] that maintaining ranching in the West—on both public lands and private lands—is essential to maintaining the health of wildlife, the prosperity of local economies, and an important and proud way of life.
However, this wasn’t enough to assuage the concerns of Congressional Republicans.
“They have not defined a baseline of current conservation practices, established metrics for measuring progress, or even provided a clear understanding of how they define the word ‘conservation.’” House Natural Resources Ranking Member Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AK) said. “We, like almost everyone else, are left with even more questions. However, that hasn’t stopped us from putting forward our vision for the future. Rather than setting a haphazard goal and locking up millions of acres of lands and water, the U.S. should focus on science-based, pro-growth and community supported conservation efforts with a measurable track record of results, solutions and success.”
Westerman added, “True conservation is about managing our lands and waters for their environmental quality, not quantity, and it’s about following the scientific principles embodied in numerous federal, state and local fish and wildlife laws. This is truly the best path forward to ensuring we have a healthy environment that we will leave better than we found it.”
30 Percent of Public Lands and Waters Already Protected
They heavily cite a 12 percent figure, but could the number be a lot higher?
According to the Western Conservation Principles report, over 30 percent of public waters and lands are already federally protected. They drew this figure from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Gap Analysis Project (GAP) on the Protected Areas Database of the U.S (PADUS).
Using available data on public lands comprising the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fishing and Wildlife, and U.S. Forest Service, here’s how much land is federally protected from any activity: 252,758,091 of 622,630,476 total acres. That comes out to 40.6 percent, not 12 percent.
The 30X30 Alternative’s Goals
Western Caucus members explained their plan to contrast “America the Beautiful” is defined by “a holistic approach to conservation based on restoring healthy and resilient landscapes versus yet-to-be defined land statuses.”
The backers took issue with the original proposal’s “preservationist approach” that relies on subjective conservation statuses that could be exploited to “restrict use or access on public land.”
Rather than place more lands in a broadly defined “conservation status” category, they suggest implementing active management practices without exhausting more funding through “thoughtful, deliberate improvements to existing programs, systems, and processes, removing regulatory burdens blocking responsible management, and leveraging the expertise, resources, and collaboration of private and public partners.”
The “western priorities” espoused proactive forest management, combating invasive species, mitigating overpopulation of wild burros, mine reclamation, modernizing the Endangered Species Act, and other top issues.
Of the available tools the Biden administration should use, the Western Caucus members recommend maintaining conservation stakeholder relationships, adhering to shared stewardship in wildlife recovery efforts, leveraging private-public partnerships, digitizing mapping and other public land data, reform “sue and settle” laws and environmental review processes, among many suggestions.
The entire 11-page report can be found here.