by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
One of the first tasks facing the soon-to-be confirmed Interior secretary Deb Haaland will be to carry out a few short paragraphs of an order signed by President Joe Biden in January: to conserve 30 percent of all U.S. lands and waters by 2030. Understated in its rollout, “30 by 30” ought to be seen as President Biden’s conservation moonshot.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, only 12 percent of the land in America qualifies as “protected,” including wilderness areas, national parks and monuments, and private lands under conservation easements. To achieve an additional 18 percent, we would need to conserve an extra 440 million acres — an area more than four times the size of California.
There will be a push to use old, divisive tools on public lands to score easy gains, such as designating new monuments or banning fossil-fuel development. But conserving land does not necessarily require a heavy hand from the federal government. The administration should use this moment to explore newer, more-creative market-based solutions. Indeed, whatever its instincts to the contrary, this would be its best chance of success.
Whether President Biden’s moonshot lifts off or turns out to be a damp squib will hinge largely on how the administration engages private landowners. With 900 million acres of farm and ranch lands in America, and another 445 million acres of privately owned forests, these lands are where the greatest gains will be won or lost.
Private landowners play a vital but often overlooked role in sustaining much of what many Americans want to conserve — abundant wildlife, clean water, and vast open spaces. Altogether, private lands are home to 75 percent of the nation’s wetlands and more than 80 percent of its grasslands. Two-thirds of all threatened and endangered species depend upon private lands for the majority of their habitat.