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Intersection of the Proposed “30x30” Plan with Landscape Conservation: Where Opportunity Can Meet Preparation
On May 6, the Biden Administration released Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful, a preliminary report to the National Climate Task Force as required in President Biden’s January Executive Order 14008. Among other things, the order recommended identifying “steps that the United States should take, working with State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, and other key stakeholders, to achieve the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030”. The goal is to accelerate conservation of the nation’s diverse fish and wildlife species and address the threats of a changing climate. The Administration’s America the Beautiful initiative, as outlined in the report released this month, is intended to direct actions that will help meet this proposed “30x30” goal.
“The President’s challenge is a call to action to support locally led conservation and restoration efforts of all kinds and all over America, wherever communities wish to safeguard the lands and waters they know and love,” wrote Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory in the report. “Doing so will not only protect our lands and waters but also boost our economy and support jobs nationwide.”
Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful outlines eight principles that emphasize the importance of collaborative, locally led conservation efforts that honor private property rights and encourage an approach that uses science to build on existing successful strategies. In addition, the recommendations include six areas of early focus that support voluntary conservation efforts, embrace programs that are showing results on the ground, and promote outdoor recreational access. Of note, the report calls out successful programs that provide flexibility and adaptive approaches to conservation at the landscape level, in particular migratory bird joint ventures, the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, and recent efforts in the West to conserve big game migration corridors and seasonal range.
As recognized in the America the Beautiful report, conservation measures and frameworks established to meet the 30x30 goals should focus on outcomes tied to habitat and ecosystem function, not just protection. Land protection is one of many important conservation tools but is insufficient alone, and in some situations is not the tool of choice. The report recognizes the significant discussion about these distinctions, stating:
“The question of what should “count” came up regularly in the early listening sessions, followed by various perspectives on how to define conservation on the land and in the ocean. Many stakeholders recommended that a continuum of effective conservation measures be acknowledged, departing from stricter definitions of “protection” that do not recognize the co-benefits that working lands or areas managed for multiple use may offer. Other feedback encouraged the administration to focus on the quality and durability of conservation outcomes, noting that not every parcel of land or water is equal when it comes to enhancing nature’s contributions to people, ecosystem health, biodiversity, or the sequestration of carbon.”
Policies and conservation frameworks under 30x30, as envisioned in the report, will need to include a broad range of tactics and incorporate or amplify existing management levels/actions already in place that maintain habitat functionality. They will also need to be flexible and based on “adaptive management to help adjust to a changing climate, shifting pressures, and new science.” The report recommends the creation of an American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas that will help to measure the progress of conservation, stewardship, and restoration efforts. The Atlas would aggregate existing databases to create a baseline assessment of how much land, ocean, and other waters in the U.S. are currently conserved or restored, including, but not necessarily limited to:
- The contributions of farmers, ranchers, forest owners, and private landowners through effective and voluntary conservation measures;
- The contributions of Fishery Management Councils and their conservation measures under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act; and
- The existing protections and designations on lands and waters across federal, state, local, tribal, and private lands and waters across the nation.
It is clear that the Administration envisions embracing some of the many examples of collaborative, landscape conservation that are already underway. These landscape conservation efforts bring together people working across large geographies, regardless of political boundaries, to conserve our natural and cultural heritage and ensure a sustainable future for both people and nature. Landscape conservation connects wild lands, working lands, and urban areas into whole, healthy landscapes or social-ecological systems, and enhances the conservation value of all lands and waters through the development of strategies that promote adaptation and resilience.
Landscape conservation across multiple jurisdictions is the appropriate scale for effective collaboration. Existing and new partnerships between state and federal agencies, local governments, and conservation organizations have and are creating collaborative and strategic conservation plans, science, and implementation tools for conserving fish and wildlife populations and their habitats in ways that are resilient to climate change and emerging issues. Examples of these partnerships include the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy, Nature’s Network in the Northeast, the Midwest Landscape Initiative, and the Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool in the West. Since these partnerships were expressly created for this purpose, these regional scale landscape-level voluntary collaboratives should be integral and leading forums to guide where investments could be made to ensure they are scientifically targeted, durable, state and community-supported, and meet their intended purpose. These regional partnerships also provide collaboration frameworks for the engagement of nongovernmental organization partners.
These current regional efforts, among many others, reflect a desire to coordinate and collaborate across jurisdictions and organizations to facilitate effective approaches to the highest priority fish and wildlife conservation needs in the region using a proactive and collaborative approach. This will necessarily involve state-by-state implementation for state agencies within an agreed-upon landscape vision and in coordination and collaboration with others working on compatible goals related to fish and wildlife, water, climate, energy, transportation, agricultural production, and development across all land-use sectors. The regional plans are based on best available science, large scale, regional approaches using the AFWA organizational structure as a foundation and were built to be an adaptive living document.
Achieving 30x30 goals and successes will hinge on taking the collaborative science-based framework and integrating robust stakeholder processes that include hunters, anglers, outdoor recreationists, private landowners, energy and agriculture interests, scientists, state agencies, tribes, conservation organizations, and other stakeholders working collectively in true partnership to implement conservation objectives and strategies for the nation’s public and private lands and freshwater and marine resources. State agencies and their nongovernmental conservation organization partners have extensive experience and are well positioned to work with private landowners and local communities to achieve mutually beneficial conservation outcomes. The Conservation and Restoration of America the Beautiful report outlines a broad vision that incorporated the input from many of these communities. The conservation community now has the opportunity to ensure the ideals expressed in that vision are put in place on the ground.