A massive effort to conserve 30% of US lands and waters is underway. Advocates worry about who could be left out.

Two years after President Joe Biden challenged the nation to protect 30 percent of its lands and waters by 2030, some advocates say the effort isn’t moving fast enough and hasn’t been as inclusive as it should.

The administration launched its America the Beautiful initiative in early 2021, billing it as a “locally led and voluntary, nationwide effort to conserve, connect and restore” lands, waters and wildlife to combat the sweeping impacts of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss.

With its progress looking a bit like a family hike — some forward motion, but also dawdling and negotiating to keep everyone moving in the same direction — a group of nearly 150 organizations launched its own policy agenda last week.

The America the Beautiful for All Coalition hopes to drive more urgent action on the president's initiative and also to ensure it includes expanded access to nature for previously underserved communities.

What does America the Beautiful for All say about US conservation goals?

The coalition's 16-member committee that steered the new policy agenda represents such diverse groups as GreenLatinos, Native American Rights Fund, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. 

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The agenda calls for at least 40% of all America the Beautiful Initiative investments to benefit and be directed by communities of color and communities experiencing the earliest and worst impacts of climate change. It also urges advancing the initiative with an eye toward environmental justice, including tribal sovereignty and co-management of lands and waters by tribes, Alaska Natives and native Hawaiians.

It’s a “genuine effort to connect our glaring equity, public health and environmental protection needs with a robust and urgent policy agenda that puts protection first," stated coalition co-chair Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, Children’s Environmental Health Network's executive director.

Agencies working toward the initiative should be guided by public health data and prioritize intact ecosystems and linking existing conserved areas, the coalition stated. It also seeks inclusion and support for Indigenous people and the conservation efforts of private landowners, farmers and ranchers.

"Communities that have historically been excluded are often closer to the environment and more affected," said Kevin Chang, executive director of KUA Hawaii.

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How did 30 by 30 start?

  • Spring 2019:  A group of international scientists published a study called "A Global Deal for Nature," discussing a growing worldwide interest in saving the diversity and abundance of life on Earth and avoiding catastrophic climate change by protecting 30% of the wild lands, oceans and waterways by 2030.

  • September 2019: Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarado Quesada called for a coalition of nations to push the "Deal for Nature" agenda.

  • October 2019:  Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, introduced a 30 by 30 resolution in the Senate.

  • October 2020: Governor Gavin Newsom pledged California to 30 by 30.

  • January 2021: Biden called for the nation to meet 30 by 30.

Where does 30 by 30 stand now?

At the U.N. Biodiversity Convention in Montreal in December, nearly 200 countries agreed to set similar goals for conserving and restoring lands and oceans worldwide to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity around the globe.

Roughly 12% of the nation’s lands are permanently protected and roughly 23% of its oceans, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That doesn’t include private land protected by conservation easements.

The administration's initiative includes development of the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas, to gather information about conserved and restored lands and waters and restoration activities in one place. No updates have been provided since a public comment period ended on March 7, 2022 with 34,500 comments.

The Biden administration placed a 20-year moratorium on mining on 225,504 acres in the Superior National Forest to protect a watershed that includes 1.1 million acres in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. A paddler's paradise, it includes more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes and is considered globally important for birds.

What actions has the Biden Administration taken?

  • Restored roadless protections for the 16.7-million acre Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the largest intact tract of coastal temperate rainforest on Earth and an area of significance for the state's Indigenous people.

  • A 20-year mining moratorium on 225,504 acres of the Superior National Forest, canceling federal mineral leases, to protect the Rainy River watershed, including the 1.1-million acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

  • Designation of Biden's first national monument the Camp Hale-Continental Divide, 50,000 acres in Colorado, where the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained for fighting in Europe during World War II. The Camp was within the homelands of the Ute Indian Tribe’s Uncompahgre Band and the designation drew the ire of the Ute tribe, which stated it should have been consulted on the monument's creation and burial site protection.

  • The National Defense Authorization Act included action to conserve more than 580,000 acres of high desert in northern Nevada, including establishment of the 217,000-acre Numu Newe Special Management Area to protect ancestral lands of the Fallon Paiute Shoshone and Walker River Tribes.

Winds whip the snow at Camp Hale, Colorado on Jan. 14, 2021, where President Joe Biden has since designated the Camp Hale - Continental Divide National Monument.
Winds whip the snow at Camp Hale, Colorado on Jan. 14, 2021, where President Joe Biden has since designated the Camp Hale - Continental Divide National Monument.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 30 by 30 climate change initiative should be inclusive, groups say