30 x 30 – America the Beautiful

The Biden Administration came out with America the Beautiful as an approach to 30×30.  I like the Principles (see image above), and I like the idea of getting agencies together, and counting the same things the same way.  Here’s a link.

American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas

To develop and track a clear baseline of information on lands and waters that have already been conserved or restored, the U.S. Government should establish an interagency working group of experts to build an American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas. The Atlas would be an accessible, updated, and comprehensive tool through which to measure the progress of conservation, stewardship, and restoration efforts across the United States in a manner that reflects the goals and principles outlined in this report.

The interagency working group—led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and NOAA, in partnership with the Council on Environmental Quality, and other land and ocean management agencies at the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and the Interior—would be tasked with gathering input from the public, States, Tribal Nations, a wide range of stakeholders, and scientists to assess existing databases, and to develop an inclusive, collaborative approach to capture and reflect conservation and restoration of lands and waters. The group, for example, could consider how to reflect State- and county- presented information, how to capture conservation outcomes on multiple use lands and ocean areas, and how to protect the privacy of landowners, and sensitive or proprietary information.

The U.S. Government has existing tools to draw from in developing the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas, including USDA’s Natural Resources Inventory and Forest Inventory and Analysis programs, the USGS’s Protected Area Database (PAD), and NOAA’s Restoration Atlas and Marine Protected Areas Inventory, among many others, but they should be refined, coordinated, and supplemented to better reflect the state of conservation in America. For example, the PAD contains useful, but incomplete, information about the conservation status of Federal, State, and local government lands and private lands subject to conservation easements.28 It is an aggregated database built through contributions from States and partners throughout the nation; however, the PAD does not, for example, currently include information about the conservation strategies of Tribal Nations, and many other effective conservation tools that farmers, ranchers, and other private landowners are deploying to conserve the health of working lands.

The American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas would aggregate information from these databases and others, supplement this information with information from the States, Tribes, public, stakeholders, and scientists, and provide 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; …

What’s your favorite and least favorite part of the initiative?

26 thoughts on “30 x 30 – America the Beautiful”

  1. I think such a publication should have a glossary of non-negotiable definitions mandated, to reduce ‘spin’, and get everyone on the ‘same page’.

    Stream buffers are a good example of how someone could ‘monkeywrench’ the statistics, from either extreme. Someone might say that large streambuffers are ‘fully protected’ and should be a major addition to the acreages of highest protection. Someone else could also say that since streambuffers don’t outright ban the cutting of all trees, that it is not ‘protected’ and should not count. This binary way of thinking should not be part of the process.

    The real answer is somewhere in the middle, regarding the vast acreages of streambuffers throughout the US.

  2. Indigenous peoples set at least 47% of fires in the Interior West between 1776 and 1900 because smoke from cultural fire has been long-applied to control tree pests and just 150 years ago over 10 million bison would be clearing the grasses that drive large range fires.

    After the Soviet Union fell Republicans began their war on the environment in 1991 substituting a new Green Scare for the old Red Scare.

    In 2019 Democratic then-New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland led a House subcommittee hearing on anti-government extremism emphasizing that the violent ideologies expressed by the Bundy clan were spurred by white elected Republicans in the Mountain West. Now, under Interior Secretary Haaland the Bureau of Land Management has even hired a security specialist to outline strategies to defend federal employees and property.

    If cattle grazing is the key to preventing wildfires why is Republican ranch country still suffering near daily high or even extreme grassland fire danger indices so often even during winter?

    Today, only 3 percent of the Earth’s surface remains untouched by human development and a sixth mass extinction is underway. Putting the country on the path of protecting at least 30 percent of its land and 30 percent of its ocean areas by 2030 (30×30) is imperative to preserving public lands and moving the US Forest Service from the US Department of Agriculture into the Department of Interior would be just one step toward that goal.

    Lease private land for wildlife corridors then connect the CM Russell Wildlife Refuge in Montana along the Missouri River to Oacoma, South Dakota combined with BLM, national grasslands from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon in the north and south to the Pecos River through Wyoming, Nebraska, eastern Colorado, western Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

    That Republican welfare ranchers are angry about rewilding means it’s the right thing to do.

      • Urban sprawl, accelerated global warming and drought are reducing productivity on the remaining grasslands of the Great Plains, writes Dr. Jeff Martin. He’s the Director of Research at the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies at South Dakota State University.

        “‘Climate change directly affects bison by increasing thermal stress and decreasing forage and water availability, issues that also challenge range beef cattle,” Martin says. “Indirect consequences of climate change include increasing distribution and intensity of parasites and several diseases that are known to reduce reproductive success. These stresses have been estimated to collectively reduce bison body size by 50% if global temperature warms by 4°C near the end of the 21st century. Currently, 90% of grasslands and 85% of bison are privately owned, which justifies the need for robust private land conservation strategies to maintain this iconic species and its grassland habitats,’ Martin says.”

        Wildlife corridors between cooperating stakeholders, including Indigenous landowners, only takes the political will to make that happen.

        • It also depends on what is actually necessary to create a wildlife corridor. I know plenty of environmental groups who would say that creating a wildlife corridor on public lands requires closing every motorized route in the area. As if a 4×4 road that sees maybe 20 vehicles a day causes the same degree of habitat fragmentation and poses the same barrier to wildlife migration as an interstate highway.

        • I’d argue (as a person who spends much time in Western Kansas) that wildlife corridors depend on 1) having a plan and 2) buying land or easements. I don’t know that it needs “political will” beyond that.

          My observation is that there’s much $ floating around the environmental movement from large foundations. Some of that goes to polling, politics, communications and all that. To my mind, feathering the nests of politicians and consultants. If folks could map out corridors and then buy from willing sellers, it seems a more direct approach and likely more successful.

          • “While 30% seems like a large number, we need to put it into perspective. Currently, 12% of the land in the U.S. is permanently protected. At the same time, approximately 60% of land in the continental US is in a natural state.

            That suggests that the remaining 18% will not have to come from agriculture alone, but could involve activities on other lands, as well.

            There is a significant possibility that farmers, ranchers and orchardists could be at greater risk from the results of climate change than from the 30×30 plan.”


            • No citations in the article. “60% of land in the US is in a natural state” is totally absurd to claim.

              a) climate change, b) removal of indigenous people, c) grazing and agriculture, d) extirpation of beaver and other landscape engineers like buffalo & wolves.

              Any thoughts on that? I’d also argue that slippery terms like “natural” are totally irrelevant at this point to ecosystem stewardship- we should be shooting for resilient landscapes, and quite obviously we don’t have anything close to that even on the table at this point. I’d agree that agricultural systems are also at risk, partly because they are so far from resilient and partly because they are actively generating climate change.

  3. I am very glad to see they are proposing to conduct a thorough inventory of lands that are already conserved and will be taking public input on what lands should count rather than just accepting the flawed PAD database and GAP surveys as authoritative. Hopefully this atlas working group can address issues like I have brought up before regarding whether or not USFS inventoried roadless areas should be counted as ‘protected’, along with BLM WSAs and ACECs, Forest Service “recommended wilderness areas,” etc. Just coming up with a definition of what lands count as ‘conserved’ for the purposes of the 30×30 goal will be half the battle as far as the many competing interest groups involved will be concerned.

    I was also pleasantly surprised by this line: “Notably, the President’s challenge specifically emphasizes the notion of “conservation” of the nation’s natural resources (rather than the related but different concept of “protection” or “preservation”) recognizing that many uses of our lands and waters, including of working lands, can be consistent with the long-term health and sustainability of natural systems.”

    Another key line: “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.”

    Those two lines especially seem aimed at allaying fears from people like me that 30×30 is just a rebranding of the longstanding Wilderness agenda and that it’s mainly going to be about locking up more western federal lands under Wilderness designations. This line also seems aimed at allaying such concerns:

    “Conservation and restoration efforts should also be regionally balanced. For example, instead of
    focusing land conservation efforts primarily on western public lands—as has been a past practice of Federal agencies—agencies should support collaborative conservation efforts across the country on private, State, local, Tribal, and territorial lands.”

    These lines together seem to be implying a vision of conservation that is much broader than the typical agenda of wilderness-obsessed environmental groups. From my perspective as a motorized recreation advocate, that is a welcome change.

    Of course, there’s a big difference between talk and action, and the real devil will be in the details. The Biden administration is already known for talking big about unity and moderation while actually pursuing incredibly divisive and controversial policies. I don’t have much faith that there will be any real balance in the 30×30 agenda and that it won’t ultimately devolve into being solely about massive wilderness designations in the west, but I would love to be proven wrong.

    • Well obviously they will only consider local proposals that fit within the predetermined national conservation agenda. While they deny elsewhere that 30×30 is focused on Wilderness as I mentioned in my previous comment, I’m particularly worried about the whole “locally lead conservation efforts” prong. I think that is likely intended to endorse pseudo-local astroturfed wilderness proposals like the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative or perhaps even the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s “America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.” Same with the CORE Act and the Colorado Wilderness Act.

      The groups pushing these proposals are experts at claiming these controversial proposals are “locally developed” and endorsed by the affected communities (when in fact they are mainly being advocated by big national environmental groups with billionaire backers and have significant local opposition), and completely deny that any opposition to their proposals even exists. That is far from true, but it’s been an effective narrative for them and so far the media has been buying it without question, while completely ignoring the many interests groups that were excluded from all dialog about them and remain strongly opposed to them.

      So I definitely find that prong of 30×30 concerning, as it will likely be used to endorse all manner of controversial wilderness proposals masquerading as locally-developed consensus.

      • The idea of “Wildlife Corridors” is a popular one that is ripe for exploitation. Just which characteristics make a particular piece of land a good candidate for being a “Wildlife Corridor”?

        A burnt, dead and barren piece of land that doesn’t support wildlife does not make a good “Wildlife Corridor”. Yes, I know that some people place importance on “Connectivity”, but some of that seems like an exercise in mapping out contiguous parcels of land, regardless of their suitability. If a piece of land is unlikely to be used by wildlife, then maybe it should not be designated as a “Wildlife Corridor”.

        PLUS, there is no reason why a managed forest cannot also be a “Wildlife Corridor” that allows such management. It seems to me that a persistent forest is better for wildlife than ‘whatever happens’. (Of course, management must enhance wildlife habitats, in such cases.)

  4. I’m afraid that nothing will really change. I’m confidant that conservation efforts will continue to focus on public lands in the West, as opposed to the East, which is more urban and privately owned. In my mind much of the 30 x 30 goals have already been met in the West.

    • Exactly. It is very telling that the only actual government actions we have seen proposed so far in name of 30×30 are re-expanding Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, designating some other new National Monuments in the west (specifically the Greater Gila in New Mexico and one in Nevada), and passing a whole raft of Wilderness bills including the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act (which is itself a collection of smaller Wilderness bills like the CORE Act and Colorado Wilderness Act), and the soon-to-be-reintroduced America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

      30×30 advocates keep talking in the abstract about other things, but the only things they actually take action on are the same old Wilderness and National Monument designations in the west they have been perusing for decades.

      • Patrick, I think there are different groups (generally) involved in public and private land conservation. You can even see this federally…NRCS and the FS are different agencies. So I look at 30×30 as opening up a new playing field. All the usual teams will rush on with their usual requests/views/”demands” (in the hyperterminology of today). So of course groups that work on western federal lands will push to have their views represented- as will private lands folks.

  5. Sharon: “If folks could map out corridors and then buy from willing sellers, it seems a more direct approach and likely more successful.” How about the the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act (which was passed in a House Committee in January, and could get a boost by tying to 30 x 30): https://wildlandsnetwork.org/blog/landmark-legislation-to-protect-wildlife-corridors-introduced-in-the-senate-and-house/?fbclid=IwAR0EU6HGkXKzVxxzmqDDxY60kkG5Izw2lrWrYPoCKcbzN9Gym3XPratZw5g

    “The Act grants authority to key federal agencies to designate National Wildlife Corridors on federal public land and creates a Wildlife Movement Grant Program to incentivize the protection of wildlife corridors on non-federal lands. It also establishes a publicly available Wildlife Connectivity Database to inform decision-making.”

    There’s lots of sources for maps of areas important to connectivity, for individual species like grizzly bears to more ecosystem-based approaches. Note the support for connectivity from the Western Governors’ Association. For ideas on federal lands, you might look at this: https://defenders.org/publications/planning-connectivity

  6. Jon, about 10 years ago I worked a bit with the State of Colorado on mapping. We got into discussions about how those corridors would take into account climate change and so on.. there seemed to be different models with different approaches. All we wanted was something to use in planning- at the time they didn’t have it.

    I looked at your links and I didn’t see maps that everyone had agreed to.. maybe there are some out there?
    I’d think such maps would be for 1) a group of species, and 2) be agreed upon by state and fed wildlife folks, so that state/fed/private funds could all be funneled there.

    My point was that some groups are spending much money on attempting to influence the Feds to get money to buy land in corridors. If they had simply bought land in corridors with the same money, we could be further down the corridor road right now.

    • Predictably, environmental groups are not happy with any approach to 30×30 that attempts to compromise and “conserve” land while still allowing some multiple use activities. As I expected, they are insisting on rigidly adhering to a scheme where only GAP levels 1 and 2 are considered “protected” and thus qualify for 30×30. This section of the article summed it up pretty well:

      “It’s the third category, GAP 3, that could boost the Biden administration’s early 30×30 achievements. Those lands are open to both “broad, low-intensity” extractive industry like logging or activities including off-highway vehicle recreation and “localized, intensive” activity like mining.

      USGS notes that these lands often include national and state forests, BLM lands and some state parks.

      A Defenders of Wildlife white paper on 30×30 published last year suggests that emphasizing biodiversity protection in GAP 3 areas, as opposed to other uses, could increase protected lands to nearly 30%, along with nearly 74% of marine habitat.”

      It should be clear from that passage why motorized recreationists especially view 30×30 as an existential threat. The only type of National Forest land that qualifies as GAP 1 or 2 is Wilderness. Inventoried Roadless Areas don’t count because they (in theory but rarely in practice) allow the presence of some motorized trails. Therefore any increase in protection on Forest Service lands will by definition come at the expense of closing areas which are currently open to motorized use. When talking about doubling the amount of existing protected areas, motorized and mechanized users of public lands stand to lose a tremendous amount of access.

  7. I see an unending discussion of what qualifies for the “30 X 30” landscape. One of two goals of 30 X 30 is supposed to be to maintain biodiversity. If Wilderness areas (especially FS and BLM) qualify, we still allow cattle grazing de degrade some species habitats, along with predator controls to protect cattle; and we don’t allow some species (bison – wolves and bears in some places) to be restored. If we add GAP 3 lands, we already qualify 30% of the landscape, at least over large regions and the job is already done! But we are still losing species today. That should be evidence that including much GAP 3 landscapes will not satisfy the goal of maintaining biodiversity.

    • Exactly. By any reasonable definition, the 30×30 goal has already been met in most western states with large amounts of federal lands. Only by unreasonably constraining the definition of ‘protected’ is there anything left to do to meet that goal at all. Hence my theory that 30×30 isn’t actually about conservation or increasing biodiversity, but simply locking up more public lands with restrictive designations like Wilderness which kick out most existing users. The real driver is ideological opposition to specific activities on public lands regardless of what impacts they do or do not have on biodiversity.

  8. One could argue that the national forests are areas that are required by NFMA to “emphasize biodiversity protection,” so should qualify as meeting the biodiversity purposes behind 30 x 30. We could debate whether or how well they do that, and it might be interesting to see some guidelines for how to evaluate the adequacy of each national forest based on its forest plan. Of course, there may be a question of how permanent the “protection” needs to be to qualify.

  9. There are also many acreages that have de facto protections, merely because there is nothing to log, mine, graze or extract. Just because a piece of land isn’t formally “protected”, the real world has already protected that land for a very long time. The slippery slope concept should not be allowed, in some cases.

    There are also other protected acreages, like wildlife zones, botany sites, Research Natural Areas, Archaeological sites, stream and river buffers, meadows and other special areas. Across the US, those acreages really add up.


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