What would make 30 by 30 work for the West?

President Biden’s executive order on climate and biodiversity directed the conservation of thirty percent of U.S. land and water by 2030. Here is the specific text of the order: 

Sec. 216.  Conserving Our Nation’s Lands and Waters.  (a)  The Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce, the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, and the heads of other relevant agencies, shall submit a report to the Task Force within 90 days of the date of this order recommending 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.

Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad

What this actually means has yet to be defined. What it means to conserve land and water, which places should be conserved, who decides and how it should be done all remain open questions.

The usual suspects on both extremes have already begun forming ranks, but most in between are taking a “wait-and-see” approach. The Biden administration, both in the executive order and in public statements, has promised a robust and inclusive stakeholder engagement process.

During her confirmation hearings, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland repeatedly stated, “the 30 by 30 goal is inclusive: it will include state and local parks, tribal lands, voluntary private conservation, and working lands cared for by generations of farmers and ranchers. This can’t be a top-down approach but must be locally engaged, science-based, and respectful of private landowners, tribal nations and existing user groups like hunters, anglers, farmers and ranchers. 30 by 30 is about setting a goal and bringing people together on conservation to conserve lands for future generations.” 

Regardless of “what counts” under 30 by 30, below are just a few ways in which the Biden administration could meaningfully recognize and support landowners and rural communities for their role in sustaining biodiversity.

  1. Voluntary, incentive-based strategies such as payments for ecosystem services and habitat leases that recognize and support landowners for providing for public wildlife and other ecological values;
  2. Funding mechanisms that incentivize and combine federal, state and private conservation investments and empower states and local communities to direct these funds in ways most appropriate to their particular landscape.  
  3. Improved regulatory assurance agreements so that landowners are not penalized for stewardship that supports wildlife on their land;
  4. Stronger public-private partnerships such as “Conservation Without Conflict” that strive to keep working lands working while also conserving wildlife; 
  5. Increased research and investment to mitigate the impacts of disease transmitted between wildlife and livestock such as brucellosis;
  6. Better support for practices that reduce conflicts between wildlife and livestock, and improved depredation compensation programs; 
  7. Greater flexibility with retained accountability for federal lands grazing so that producers and agencies can collaborate, adapt and innovate to achieve shared resource management objectives; 
  8. A BLM restoration policy that increases land health and productivity in cooperation with permittees on BLM grazing lands; 
  9. Providing adequate funding and less red tape for Conservation
    Title Farm Bill programs; 
  10. Providing interagency resource coordinators to help landowners access existing federal and state resources;
  11. Funding support and frameworks for locally driven, place-based collaborative conservation so that landowners and local communities have a voice in land use and wildlife management decisions; 
  12. Creating a process to ensure federal designations or federal land use restrictions are informed and supported by the communities and stakeholders most directly affected. 

The executive order opens the door to this new path for conservation by specifically calling for the inclusion of landowners, fishermen and other key stakeholders in shaping the 30 by 30 initiative. WLA advocated for the inclusion of this language in the order and will continue working to ensure landowners have a voice and a seat at the table. 

Lesli is a founding member and the chief executive of the Western Landowners Alliance. She was also a founding member of the Chama Peak Land Alliance. For the past three decades, Lesli has worked extensively with private landowners and multiple stakeholders to advance conservation, sustain working lands and support rural communities.