In January 2021, the Biden White House announced an ambitious goal to “conserve” 30% of public waters and public lands in the U.S. by 2030. The plan is known as the 30-by-30 initiative. In the press release detailing the plan, the Interior Department claimed that only “12% of lands are permanently protected” and that “roughly 23% of America’s ocean is currently strongly protected,” noting the need for this new push. But is this true?

“The U.S. Geological Survey reports that only 12% of lands are permanently protected. Studies show that roughly 23% of America’s ocean is currently strongly protected, with the vast majority of ocean protections found in the western Pacific Ocean.”
-Department of the Interior

Mostly false or misleading. Significant errors or omissions. Mostly make believe.

The Biden administration cherry-picked data from the U.S. Geological Survey Gap Analysis Project (GAP) on the Protected Areas Database of the U.S (PADUS).

As I noted in an October 2021 IWF blog post, 30-by-30 supporters are intentionally undercounting lands already protected by the federal government. 

Perusing available data on public lands comprising the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fishing and Wildlife, and U.S. Forest Service, public lands that are federally protected from any activity amount to 252,758,091 of 622,630,476 total acres. That’s 40.6%, not 12%, of public lands under federal oversight.

By all indications, the Biden administration wouldn’t stop at the 30% goal. In fact, the ultimate goal is to conserve 50% of waters and lands to protect 85% of species from extinction.

On Page 10 of the “America the Beautiful” report, the writers urge “conserving” beyond the 30% threshold, writing, “The U.S. should aim to conserve ‘at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.’” 

The plan also wouldn’t be exclusive to public lands and waters. 

“The 30 percent goal also reflects the need to support conservation and restoration efforts across all lands and waters, not solely on public lands, including by incentivizing voluntary stewardship efforts on private lands and by supporting the efforts and visions of States and Tribal Nations,” the report claimed. “The goal of conserving 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030 echoes the recommendations of scientists who encourage world leaders to work together to conserve or restore a substantial portion of our planet to stem the extinction crisis, safeguard water and food supplies, absorb carbon pollution, and reduce the risks of future pandemics and other global health emergencies.” 

The federal government shouldn’t instruct Americans to protect lands and waters on vaguely-defined “conservation” terms. Instead, people must voluntarily decide how best to protect nature and wild spaces.

The sweeping nature of the 30-by-30 initiative could have ramifications on property rights and steer the U.S. away from its true conservation model. If it so desires, the Biden administration could move the goalposts to “protect” more than 30%—even 50%—of waters and lands. 

Those closest to the lands and waters — not the federal government — should be incentivized to conserve lands. This vaguely-worded, top-down initiative could imperil true conservation efforts going forward.

To learn more about true conservation in the U.S., check out our policy focus HERE