New Report Outlines 10-Year Plan to Conserve 30% of U.S. Lands and Waters

Broad engagement and public collaboration, especially with Indigenous communities, is critical to success

New Report Outlines 10-Year Plan to Conserve 30% of U.S. Lands and Waters
Red Rock Canyon
A bill pending in Congress would protect nearly 2 million acres in southern Nevada, including an expansion of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a popular outdoor recreation destination.
BLM Nevada

As government and conservation leaders worldwide work to significantly increase the protection and conservation of the planet over the next decade, national leaders must do their part at home as well.

To that end, on May 6, 2021, the U.S. federal government released a report “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful,” detailing a 10-year, locally led approach to protect and conserve 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030. The plan builds on decades of conservation efforts in the U.S. and adds to the nation’s legacy of conserving significant landscapes, ecosystems, and marine and freshwater areas, and helping all communities and economies that depend on nature. The plan is in line with the dedication to natural resource conservation that the United States has shown for more than a century.

The Pew Charitable Trusts also has a long record of working to protect the ocean and public lands in the U.S. and internationally. We are a recognized leader in the protection of U.S. public lands, and have been committed to a goal to protect at least 30% of the global ocean since the International Union for Conservation of Nature approved a Pew-backed resolution in 2016. Our conservation efforts are built on engagement with governments, Indigenous communities, and many private-sector stakeholders, such as working with partners in Connecticut to secure a National Estuarine Research Reserve, and a recent joint initiative aimed at conserving a 1 million-acre stretch of salt marsh that runs from northeast Florida to North Carolina and measures nearly the size of Grand Canyon National Park.

Rocky Neck State Park
Children peer out at a marsh in Rocky Neck State Park, near the proposed site of Connecticut’s first National Estuarine Research Reserve, which the Biden administration says it intends to finalize in January 2022.
Heather Kordula for the Connecticut Audubon Society

Pew looks forward to continuing to work with U.S., Indigenous, and international leaders and a broad spectrum of interested parties on substantive collaboration for conserving critical land, ocean, coastal, and riparian ecosystems around the world. It is essential to take the time and effort for extensive, inclusive public engagement.

When President Joe Biden announced the 30% protection pledge in January, referred to as “30 by 30,” he made the critical commitment to meaningful stakeholder engagement. We are pleased that his executive order supports a collaborative approach and directs the federal government to work alongside and with “State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, and other key stakeholders.”

Additionally, the Biden administration recognizes the sovereignty of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal nations. It will be critical to collaborate with tribal nations on the implementation of 30 by 30 to ensure its success. Indigenous peoples in the U.S. are the original stewards of the lands and waters here, and have nurtured relationships with them that include effective management, since time immemorial. Their traditional knowledge as well as sound research can inform 30 by 30 efforts, with priority placed on conserving and restoring ocean habitat, landscapes, wildlife corridors, and rivers that will have significant and durable benefits for nature and people who depend on these areas.  

For example, protecting inland and coastal wetlands should be a high priority given that they are carbon-rich and essential to the survival of commercial and recreational fishing in the U.S. In fact, estimates suggest that more than 75% of our nation’s commercial catch and 80% to 90% of the recreational catch depend on these areas for food or habitat during some part of their lives. Further, coastal watershed counties account for more than $4.5 trillion—or about half—of the nation’s gross domestic product. To help accomplish its conservation goals, the administration should prioritize the protection of core habitat and migratory corridors for fish and wildlife on the 430 million acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

Today, more than 70 countries are calling to protect at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030, and the momentum and support for this target continues to build. Given that two-thirds of the world’s ocean lies outside national jurisdictions, reaching this goal will demand international cooperation. Examples of how this target can be achieved include a treaty to protect areas of the high seas, and designating a network of marine protected areas around Antarctica’s Southern Ocean—an effort that the U.S. recently announced it will co-lead, and which Pew has worked toward for years.

To help move toward the global 30 by 30 target, Pew is also working with many public- and private-sector partners to deliver terrestrial and marine protections globally, increase sustained financing for conservation, and ensure that all stakeholders are engaged in planning, negotiating, and decision-making on conservation initiatives.

We protect nature for many reasons, from resilience to global climate change, and from boosting biological diversity to improving the quality of life for local communities. An inclusive and participatory approach will be the critical test for success in reaching a goal of sustaining life-supporting nature. The how and the who of conservation is as important as the what. Pew is dedicated to helping with this collaboration.  

Tom Wathen is a vice president at The Pew Charitable Trusts, leading the organization’s crosscutting environmental initiatives.

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