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On May 6, 2021, the Commerce, Interior, and Agriculture Departments released a 22-page plan entitled: “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful,” which outlined the Biden administration’s ten-year goal of “conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.” This plan comes after President Biden affirmed his bold commitment to environmental justice early on in his campaign for president and a byproduct of the Paris Climate agreement of 2015.
The Biden initiative has received endorsements from stakeholders, including tribal authorities, outdoor recreationists, environmentalists, and the U.S. Climate Alliance, which includes 20 plus governors. But, despite its glowing praise, it has received mixed reactions from the agriculture sector.
Increase in Federal Ownership
As of 2018, the federal government owns roughly 640 million acres or about 28 percent of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States. However, approximately 12 percent of U.S. land and 26 percent of its freshwater ecosystems enjoy some level of official protection that meets the 30 by 30 standard.
This “30×30” plan is widely characterized as putting forth “ambitious recommendations” that would vastly increase federal government land and freshwater ownership over the coming decade. To put this into perspective, states such as Nevada (80.1), Utah (63.1), Idaho (61.9), Alaska (60.9), and Oregon (52.3) have much of their acreage under federal ownership.
Biden’s conservation plan ambitiously seeks roughly 45 million more acres of land in the coming decade under federal protection. The plan is vague concerning how this would be accomplished.
The Climate Task Forces outline three critical issues for reasons for taking action in increasing federal land and freshwater ownership (page 9). Their reasons include:
- The Disappearance of Nature
- Climate Change
- Inequitable Access to the Outdoors
The national priorities of the 30×30 plan include creating parks in urban areas and other “nature-deprived communities,” funding for tribal conservation efforts, expansion of fish and wildlife habitats and corridors (which involves the expansion of NOAA), increased access to outdoor recreation opportunities, and creation of a “civilian climate corps” to work on conservation and restoration projects across the country.
This administration has demonstrated to their base their commitment to social justice, which explains why they are addressing “inequitable access to the outdoors” as one of the environmental actions highlighted in this plan. The authors of the report describe the importance of equal access to nature:
“As a result of discrimination and segregation in housing, transportation, conservation, and natural resource policy, communities of color and low-income communities have disproportionately less access to nature’s benefits, such as clean water, clean air, and access to nature. These same communities, meanwhile, shoulder a disproportionate share of the costs of nature’s decline, including more pollution nearby, loss of subsistence fishing and hunting, and encroaching industrial development. An estimated 100 million Americans do not have a park within a ten-minute walk of their home. In too many neighborhoods and communities across America, families are finding too few close-to-home opportunities to safely enjoy the outdoors.”
Federal Land Grab?
There has been criticism and sharp opposition from Republican governors, farm organizations, and other local officials characterizing this initiative as the “30×30 federal land grab.” Many progressives on the left downplay opponents of the plan as being overblown. However, the 30×30 plan does little to clarify the differences between ‘conserving’ and ‘protecting.’ Many opponents object to the conservation efforts of this plan and the impact it would have on private land ownership.
On Fox News, American Stewards of Liberty executive director Margaret Byfield expressed her concern. “We’re looking at a huge land grab that is going to fundamentally change land ownership in America,” Byfield remarked.
Read: Democrats Seek to Radically Transform American Politics With H.R. 1, For the People Act
“The worst management of our land is managed by the federal government,” Byfield added. “If environmentalists are truly concerned about protecting or conserving land and in creating habitats for species, they would be removing the federal restrictions.”
However, the White House stressed “incentivizing and rewarding” farmers, ranchers, and forest owners, as well as the fishing industry, to increase voluntary conservation efforts. Among the principles laid out, the plan includes “honoring private property rights” while supporting more voluntary efforts among private landowners.
The details of what the ‘incentives’ and ‘rewards’ are are unclear. The vagary of the plans details is concerning.
Why this matters
Historically, the purpose of federal land and freshwater ownership was meant to protect and preserve natural reserves throughout the U.S. In 1949, President Truman created the federal agency, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), with the task of “managing public lands for a variety of uses such as energy development, livestock grazing, recreation, and timber harvesting while ensuring natural, cultural, and historic resources are maintained for present and future use.” The role of this department is looked to be expanded into the areas of social justice and climate change. The costs of this plan is unknown.
“I don’t think that we’re prepared at this point to put a total figure on this,” Gina McCarthy, the White House’s national climate advisor, replied when asked what kind of support, dollar-wise as well as in the form of technology and other resources, the plan would require.
Biden’s 30×30 plan is the most ambitious conservation plan in U.S. history. However, the lack of detail-both cost and how this will be implemented-should raise red flags. For example, will the federal government use coercive ‘incentives’ to acquire the additional 3 percent of land? What are the proposed ‘incentives’ and ‘rewards’? How much will this cost taxpayers?
No one purchases a product before they know more about what it does and how much it costs. This administration owes the American public more details before implementation.
Michael Price is a Founder and editor for ThinkCivics. He has been writing about politics, government, and culture for over a decade. He has a BA in Political Science and an Masters in Public Administration.