Conserving & Restoring America the Beautiful: Part 1

bison on a prairie behind a wire fence at sunset
Photo by Mary Hammel on Unsplash

You may have seen that in early May, the Biden-Harris administration published a report titled Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful. This report is summarized as:

A preliminary report to the Nation Climate Task Force recommending a ten-year, locally led campaign to conserve and restore the lands and waters upon which we all depend and that bind us together as Americans.

In short, this plan aims to detail what we can expect from the 30x30 plan under the Biden-Harris administration. As your friendly neighborhood environmental communications nerd, let’s discuss some of the main points and takeaways from this report. This is a pretty dense report, so we’ll be doing it in two parts. Check back next week for Part 2!

First things first: let’s review what the 30x30 plan is.

This plan stems from the 30x30 campaign championed by the Wyss Foundation. By donating $1 billion USD over 10 years via the Wyss Campaign for Nature, this campaign aims to protect 30% of our planet’s land and oceans by 2030. At this point, 15% of the world’s land and 7% of the world’s oceans are protected, but we need more if we are going to stave off the devastating effects of climate change, like the unprecedented wildfires and heatwaves we’ve been experiencing here in Oregon. As nations all over the world have begun committing to this challenge, the “campaign” has become more of a “plan”.

Introduction & presenting the challenges

The report begins by introducing comments from numerous individuals and organizations—including mayors, Tribal Leaders, conservation groups like the Nature Conservancy, agricultural organizations like the Farmland Trust, and many more—on Biden’s challenge to tackle climate change, many of whom express fervent support for this campaign. A letter to the United States public contextualizes the issue by connecting it to the people of this country, and then it launches into the introduction. The introduction reviews the history of industry in the United States, how it has developed, and how that development has affected US land. With the stage set, it goes on to present the three main threats to the land, water, and wildlife that we all depend upon:

The disappearance of nature. It is common knowledge that we are amidst a crisis-level extinction event. The disappearance of wildlife—such as the bees that pollinate the plants we eat or the trees and grasses that mitigate erosion to keep our water clean—is not an environmentalist’s issue alone. With the disappearance of these incredibly important species and the environments they depend on, you can be sure that our disappearance is not far behind.

Climate change. These disappearing species are under further stress with their habitats being altered, and warmer temperatures are leading to the hotter days and higher fire load that we’ve observed in recent years. (While the Earth does naturally go through heating and cooling cycles, numerous amounts of studies have been done to demonstrate that this is not a “normal” heating cycle. And human activities are the reason why.)

Inequitable access to the outdoors. To me—and countless others—being outside and enjoying nature is a fundamental human right. Communities of color and low-income communities disproportionately bear the burden of environmental degradation (e.g., lack of clean water, air pollution), and they are the same communities that have fewer opportunities to safely enjoy the outdoors, due to lack of infrastructure, proximity, or other factors.

However, with great challenges come great opportunities. With projects like reforestation ahead of us, we can reduce risks to our communities (like wildfires, in this case) and create countless jobs. There doesn’t have to be a tradeoff between saving the planet and preserving your livelihood—just an adjustment of perspective.

President Biden’s Challenge

One of Biden’s primary goals within the first 100 days of his presidency was to start making a plan to tackle climate change, and one of his primary avenues of doing so was to start transition the country into clean energy. This transition requires tons of American workers, which is where the public comes in. Biden is hitting two birds with one stone (an unfortunate saying considering we’re talking about saving animals) by using climate action to simultaneously reduce unemployment.

Luckily, this work is not going to take place in a vacuum. By consulting with Native groups and nations, ranchers, farmers, climate scientists, ecologists, conservationists, and many more, these decisions will not be one-sided. Compromises are a fundamental part of creating change, and a wide variety of perspectives gives us the best chance at getting to a compromise that most find agreeable.

Of course, there are some points of contention in this report, the main one being the definition of conservation. In a recent article for High Country News, author Wufei Yu states,

Many conservationists pointed out, however, that, according to the America the Beautiful report, farming, grazing and logging could count as conservation under the 30% designation if the land is managed with “the long-term health and sustainability of natural systems” in mind.

Now, that doesn’t sound like a great deal of change to me. But, as Aaron Weiss of Center for Western Priorities goes on to say in Yu’s article,

The report definitely takes a broad and widely encompassing view of what conservation is and can be. There’s no conservation plan that’s going to please everyone all the time. Now is where the hard work on the ground comes in, working with land managers and tribes to come up with plans and necessary adjustments.

Only time will tell where this will go. Stay tuned for the next blog post where we continue looking at the specifics of this report.

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