Biden’s Conservation Commitment Much More Than A Climate Solution

Photo: Kent Kanouse

The United States is facing a multitude of crises: climate change, species extinction, languishing public health, racial and economic inequity, and the legacies of colonialism. These crises were destined to collide, which is why resolving them demands an integrated problem-solving approach.

President Biden’s launch on May 6 of an ambitious national initiative to conserve and restore 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 (“30×30”) is an important contribution to solving the problems our nation and world have incubated over the past two centuries. We’re at a tipping point, and that is why the ambitious 10-year goals of this initiative are so urgent.

Wildfire and drought consume the West, floods and hurricanes inundate the Southeast, sea level rise threatens thousands of miles of precious coastline, and steadily increasing temperatures are triggering a domino effect of land and ocean ecosystem failures. We must strengthen our collective will and ability to rebuild the resilience of the natural systems we all depend on. And we must do this while supporting those who suffer as a result of our past failures: Black, brown, and rural communities that have disproportionately borne decades of air and water pollution; Native American Tribes who stewarded lands and waters for millennia only to have them stolen; and low-income and middle-class families left behind by shortsighted policies that drive too much of our nation’s economy.

Resources Legacy Fund applauds President Biden’s principled, inclusive, community-driven approach to protect our nation’s life-sustaining biodiversity. The report lays out eight principles to guide the national 30×30 initiative and greatly improve its chances of success. In the principles, we see a reflection of the Biden administration’s values—collaboration, a commitment to listening and learning, and respect for Tribal sovereignty, science, and equity.

Collaborative conservation at every scale

We recognize these values because we share them too. In our experience, and as the Biden Administration’s 30×30 report acknowledges, the most effective and durable conservation solutions are shaped through partnership and generate benefits for many, not just a few. Here are some promising examples:

  • Hawai‘i leads the nation as the first state working to adopt the 30×30 conservation goal in ocean waters. In 2016, Governor David Y. Ige announced the state’s Holomua: Marine 30×30 Initiative, an effort to establish marine management areas for at least 30 percent of the state’s nearshore waters by 2030. The Hawai‘i effort emphasizes traditional stewardship practices, community engagement, and cutting-edge science to support the state’s world-renowned coral reefs and marine life, local livelihoods and cultural values, and the state’s billion-dollar tourism economy. RLF was invited by the State of Hawai‘i to support Marine 30×30 implementation, based on our experience coalescing the support needed to establish and implement California’s network of marine protected areas, which protects 17 percent of its nearshore waters.
  • In October of 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order committing the state to protecting 30 percent of its land and coastal waters by 2030. The California Natural Resources Agency has been leading the effort, mobilizing quickly with RLF’s support to kick off an extensive stakeholder engagement process that will elevate solutions and contributions from California Tribes, local communities, businesses, labor, outdoor enthusiasts, academia, land managers, government, and other stakeholders. Supporting the state’s efforts to effectively embrace equity in its 30×30 implementation, Parks Now—an influential coalition advocating for public health and social and environmental justice—has laid out a series of recommendations. These recommendations focus on building a culture of stewardship, redefining what biodiversity conservation means for today’s California (including, for example, restoring urban lands), integrating conservation with equitable access to nature, and elevating marginalized voices in decision making, especially those of Tribes and the traditional stewardship knowledge they bring. One ripe opportunity to put these values into action is a campaign led by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council to designate a new National Marine Sanctuary that would protect 140 miles of coastline in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. And California’s recently launched Tribal Marine Stewards Network is an important pilot project demonstrating the State’s commitment to working with Tribal partners.
  • Beyond the United States, RLF is involved in similar efforts to apply these principles to ensure successful conservation. In Canada’s Boreal Forest, the largest intact forest remaining in the world, the International Boreal Conservation Campaign is advancing a collaborative, science-based conservation and stewardship strategy, led by Indigenous Peoples of Canada. The effort supports First Nations to safeguard and steward their traditional homelands while creating new economic opportunities. Indigenous-led conservation in Canada is already serving as a global model. And around the world, the $1 billion Campaign for Nature (CFN) is advancing 30×30 by dramatically increasing the capacity of communities, Indigenous Peoples, and nations to conserve lands, waters, and wildlife as an effective nature-based solution to climate change. A CFN-supported analysis has determined that reaching the 30×30 goal globally would generate hundreds of billions of dollars of economic benefits, with the benefits substantially outweighing the costs of implementation.  

These firsthand examples demonstrate the potential to use the national 30×30 initiative as a means to build inclusive, equitable outcomes for people and nature. Undoubtedly, there are more stories of collaborative progress and success around the country and the world, and more people who are inspired to participate in a movement to care for the places they love. That is why we appreciate, most of all, the Biden Administration’s acknowledgement that the May 6 report is “only the starting point” on a path that will be determined “by the ideas and leadership of local communities” – and its commitment “to listen, learn, and provide support along the way to help strengthen economies and pass on healthy lands, waters, and wildlife to the generations to come.”