By now, you’ve probably heard of President Joe Biden’s “30×30” initiative. Also known as “America the Beautiful,” the program aims to conserve 30% of America’s land and waters by 2030. Currently protected according to the US Geological Survey. But in the face of urban sprawl, climate change, fractured habitat and the exploitation of natural resources, experts say more is needed.
There is still a lot of debate about exactly which lands should count as “conserved.” Some groups believe that land can only be considered conserved if it contains no significant human presence. Others argue that land and water can promote biodiversity while allowing hunting, fishing, and farming. Beyond that debate, which will soon be resolved once the American Atlas of Conservation and Management is finalized, the initiative could be exactly what the conservation community needs to measure success. More on the atlas in a moment.
“For the first time, the American the Beautiful Initiative establishes a national conservation framework,” Christy Plumer told MeatEater. Plumer is the director of conservation for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and has been tracking 30×30 more closely than anyone else. Because the 30×30 outcome will have potentially long-term consequences for how conservation work is done in the United States, she believes it is critical for our community to “take a seat at the table” while the framework is being built.
“The hunting and fishing community in the US already does tremendous conservation work on the landscape and in watersheds,” he said. “We have to be at the table and pay attention. And we have to show what we are already doing.”
What is 30×30?
President Biden did not coin the phrase “30×30.” The goal of preserving 30% of land and water by 2030 was first proposed by a group of scientists who wrote in Sciences in 2019. They argued that to address biodiversity loss and climate change, humans would need to conserve at least 30% of the Earth’s surface over the next decade.
The 30×30 slogan was picked up by the High Ambition Coalition, which currently includes more than 50 countries that have committed to the 30×30 goal.
The Biden administration is pursuing this goal in the United States through the “America the Beautiful” initiative. The president released it in a 2021 executive order. He directed the Interior Department to partner with the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality to “develop initial recommendations on how to promote an inclusive and collaborative conservation vision”.
These agencies published an initial report in May 2021 outlining the key principles that will guide their conservation efforts. The initiative will be “locally led and voluntary” and will seek, among other things, to “honor private property rights and support the voluntary management efforts of private property owners.” The federal government will pursue this goal primarily through executive action by federal agencies, but could also include federal legislation such as the Great American Outdoors Act and the most recent infrastructure bill.
As Plumer explained, the initiative would be voluntary and work primarily through tools and programs already used by federal, state and local agencies. While the sports community originally greeted the plan with some misgivings about how restrictive the protective measures would be and whether they would have a seat at the table, such concerns have been largely addressed. A recent National Wildlife Federation report on game species habitat loss noted: “Most recently, the federal government has supported 30×30 in its ‘America the Beautiful’ initiative with explicit recognition of the role of hunters and anglers in your success.”
How has the outdoor community responded?
The hunting and fishing community has largely united behind the principles outlined in the HuntFish30x30 statement. This statement was signed by a wide variety of outdoor-related organizations ranging from the National Rifle Association to hunters and backcountry fishermen to the TRCP.
“The undersigned members of the hunting and fishing community support in principle the stated goal of the 30 by 30 initiative to protect and enhance biodiversity in terrestrial, wetland, aquatic and marine habitats by the year 2030,” the groups wrote. .
Your support for the individual 30×30 proposals will depend on whether the administration recognizes the positive role hunting and fishing play in conservation, defines the “protected area” in a way that still allows for sustainable wildlife-dependent activities, and uses science-based conservation measures. to address threats to biodiversity.
In other words, the outdoor community has been happy to support the overall 30×30 goal as long as the outdoor recreation coalition has a real chance to provide input. And the Biden administration has been willing to listen. The Congressional Athletes Foundation hosted a panel discussion with members of some of the federal agencies developing the 30×30 framework, and all three reiterated the importance of viewing the definition of “preserved” on a “continuum.”
Bidisha Bhattacharyya, Senior Climate and Conservation Advisor at the US Department of Agriculture, focused on the importance of working the land, pointing to the Sage Grouse Initiative as a good example of what she called “collaborative conservation.”
Letise LaFeir, senior adviser to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, assured viewers that “conservation” includes members of the recreational community. She also emphasized that what counts as conserved will include a wide range of landscape uses.
“In some cases, that means we have to leave certain places alone. In other cases, we need to improve our management. In other cases, it means helping people fall in love with those places by going out [into them],” she said.
This type of language is also reflected in the latest White House 30×30 report released in December 2021. It includes an entire section highlighting the need to increase access to outdoor recreation and emphasizes the “many benefits” that “the hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, biking, and other activities offer healthy communities, economies, and wildlife.”
The “American Atlas of Conservation and Stewardship” is an online tool set to launch later this year that will show which parts of the country the Biden administration considers “preserved.” Much of the debate over America the Beautiful has focused on this atlas, and it’s easy to see why.
If the atlas recognizes that a wide range of public and private lands conserve habitat and biodiversity, private and government entities alike can use those success stories to fill in the gaps that still need help, according to Plumer.
“We want this atlas to truly represent the foundation of conservation across the country, and to be broader than what is considered ‘protected’ under one definition of wildlife,” he said. “Since the 1950s, there has been an evolution in the way we do conservation in the United States. It encompasses not only the work that is done on public lands to conserve and restore those lands, but also the broad set of activities that are done on private working lands.”
On the other hand, if the atlas is more selective in what it considers “conserved,” hunters and fishermen risk being left out of conservation work and, potentially, of the federal funds that pay for that work. At a minimum, they may not get the credit they deserve in this first-of-its-kind national conservation framework. If these selective measures end up leading the way, the government could implement more land use policies that prohibit hunting and fishing and fail to take advantage of all the successful conservation partnerships between the outdoor community and private landowners.
But the current record of the Biden administration in acknowledging the active role of the sports community in achieving the 30×30 goals gives hope that such selective measures will not be a problem. Plumer said it’s too early to say definitively how the federal government will use that atlas, but he’s hopeful the administration will keep the outdoor community in mind. Still, he acknowledged that “there’s work to be done … to make sure that what we want in it is going to be in it.”
The good news is that even if the atlas turns out to be less than ideal, it will not stop all the conservation work on the ground that is currently being done. The hunting and fishing community will have additional opportunities to make contributions.
“Even if we bring something back that we don’t like, we’ll still have opportunities to make it better, and it in no way stops the great work the hunting and fishing community has been doing,” Plumer said.
Not everyone is so optimistic that 30×30 will be a boon to outdoor folks and wildlife. Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, a frequent critic of Biden, said in March that Montana will not participate in the initiative. Gov. Gianforte, who called America beautiful as “so much on philosophy and so little on detail,” said the Biden administration lacked the “requisite jurisdiction or funding to implement stated efforts.”
It is unclear what Gianforte’s statement will mean in practice. Plumer noted that both federal and state actors have done “fabulous conservation work” in Montana, and that work is unlikely to stop in the wake of Gianforte’s statement.
He also noted that since states have sovereignty over the “vast majority” of the species under America the Beautiful, their input will be vital to the process.
“Conservation shouldn’t be political,” he said. “Any time we have a lack of conservation coordination, it means less conservation is done. There are great elements of what is being discussed in [30×30]And we would encourage all of our partners at the state level to have that conversation with us.”
As the old saying goes, if you’re not at the table, you might be on the menu. The unwillingness to engage with the White House on this issue could be, at the very least, a wasted opportunity. For hunters and fishermen who don’t want to be on the menu, there is still an opportunity to participate in the process. The comment period for the atlas is over, but Plumer said contacting state and federal officials remains a great way to ensure hunters and fishermen are recognized as key conservation players.
He also recommended getting involved with a local conservation group. “I would encourage people to show the places they want to preserve and restore,” she said. “We have a lot of work underway to restore these landscapes and make sure they have healthy populations of wildlife.”
When the TRCP and similar groups interact with the Biden administration, they can hold up this conservation work as proof that hunters and fishermen are among the most passionate and effective conservationists in the nation. In the ongoing debate over what should count as “conserved,” these case studies are powerful reminders that lands that allow hunting and fishing can conserve habitat, support wildlife, and help management achieve its 30×30 goal.