What happened at 30×30 and Private Lands in the West

On May 13th, 2021, Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) hosted a live Zoom panel of landowners and land managers to share their perspectives on the Biden-Harris administration’s 30 by 30 initiative, a goal to conserve 30% of land and water by the year 2030. While this policy goal is still being developed, WLA is advocating to ensure that what emerges respects property rights, is good for rural communities, and improves conservation outcomes.

Panelists discussed what 30 by 30 could mean for the West, and discussed how the administration should include working lands as contributing to the goal.

The panelists:

  • Lesli Allison, Executive Director, Western Landowners Alliance
  • Tuda Crews, Rancher, Ute Creek Cattle Company, New Mexico
  • Jack Hanson, Rancher, Willow Creek Ranch, Lassen County, California
  • Kate Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff – Policy, Department of the Interior
  • Brenda Richards, Rancher, Owyhee, Idaho and Coordinator of the Idaho Rangeland Conservation Partnership
  • Martha Williams, Acting Director, US Fish & Wildlife Service, former Director, MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks


Kate Kelly of the Department of the Interior summarized the recently released “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” report in a short presentation that focused on the principles spelled out in the report:

  • Pursue a Collaborative and Inclusive Approach to Conservation
  • Conserve America’s Lands and Waters for the Benefit of All People
  • Support Locally Led and Locally Designed Conservation Efforts
  • Honor Tribal Sovereignty and Support the Priorities of Tribal Nations
  • Pursue Conservation and Restoration Approaches that Create Jobs and Support Healthy Communities
  • Honor Private Property Rights and Support the Voluntary Stewardship Efforts of Private Landowners and Fishers
  • Use Science as a Guide
  • Build on Existing Tools and Strategies with an Emphasis on Flexibility and Adaptive Approaches

The panelists went on to press Williams and Kelly for additional details about what kinds of programs the federal government intended to use to support private stewardship. Hanson, in particular, pushed the administration officials to clarify what was meant by “locally-led.” In turn, Kelly and Williams put the question back to the panelists and indeed Western landowners generally to help the administration identify and support those local processes and decision-making bodies that work to advance effective conservation solutions that rural communities can get behind and benefit from.

“Within all the areas in which ranching and outdoor recreation occur, those lands, which I already consider conserved, by the way, there are lots of collaborative groups that would make excellent partners,” said Hanson. “There are a number of different opportunities that exist at the local level, other than say, county governments, though I obviously wouldn’t exclude them either.”

Crews, who has spent two decades regenerating degraded grasslands on her ranch in eastern New Mexico, was pointed about the opportunity for 30×30 to restore the reputation of America’s land stewards and ranchers, saying, “I believe the stewards on the land are the ones to really step up to the plate and lead this whole initiative, because we are the ones with the knowledge of the ecosystem.”

“I believe strongly we have an opportunity to make a huge difference, if everyone does their part collectively, we could make an enornous impact not only on mitigating this climate crisis that we’re in, but for our communities, our bottom lines, for our families, for future generations,” Crews continued. “We have to think on a very large scale. It’s time to step up and say ‘I want to be part of the solution.'”

Before Kelly and Williams departed at the hour mark, Richards emphasized that improving communications between the rural and urban populations in the West and the nation is going to be a key part of success of conservation initiatives. Richards noted, “Those of us that have a passion for working on this kind of thing, and finding the opportunity in it, also have neighbors and work with stakeholders who might be scared of how that is defined, whether it will be designations or restrictions.”

Kelly and Williams were then questioned by Allison about the “elephant in the room.”

“I think the thing that has everybody worried that we just have to tackle head-on is this question about federal lands, this idea that has been pushed out there quite a bit that this is a federal land grab, or that there could be uses of eminent domain and massive federal land expansions and taking of private properties,” asked Allison. “Are those concerns valid?”

Kelly responded, “(About) some of the concern and what I would call misinformation out there about this being a federal land grab, I think it is easy to be clear that it is not that,” Kelly said. “There is no eminent domain that will be used here. This is about recognizing and honoring private property, respecting private property and honoring the work that (private landowners) are doing. We are looking to use existing tools and resources to support the work that is happening to keep working lands working in their current state.”

Kelly and Williams departed the panel after nearly an hour, leaving our landowner panelists to discuss with the audience what additional tools are needed, what barriers exist, and what possible opportunities there are to expand support for land stewardship under the initiative. WLA intends to continue those conversations in the coming months.

Stay tuned for more information sessions and opportunities to engage with the Western Landowners Alliance on this issue.

The webinar was also reported on in the Sheridan Press. Read that story by Carrie Haderlie.

Zach is a multimedia producer and storyteller based in the Greater Yellowstone. He is a producer for Working Wild U, and an occasional host and producer for the On Land Podcast. He loves running, skiing, raising animals and cuddling with his dog.

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