The first four months of President Biden’s administration have presented a watershed change in priorities, promising renewed emphasis on environmental protection, natural resources and land conservation, and mitigation of climate change consequences. We greet this news with renewed hope, even as evidence of the catastrophic consequences of climate change continues to mount.
The Washington Post is keeping a TALLY of the administration’s environmental actions. In four months, President Biden has begun to transform the nation’s energy and environmental landscape, according to the Washington Post’s analysis, by overturning 34 of former president Donald Trump’s policies and finalizing 21 of his own, as of this writing. From pausing new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters to rejoining the Paris climate agreement, Biden has elevated the issue of climate change across the U.S. government and signaled a shift away from fossil fuels. In April he pledged that the United States would cut its greenhouse gas emissions between 50 and 52 percent by the end of the decade compared with 2005 levels—a commitment that will trigger major changes in the ways Americans live, work, and travel.
“I talked to the experts, and I see the potential for a more prosperous and equitable future. The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable,” Biden declared at the virtual climate summit he convened on Earth Day. “The United States isn’t waiting. We are resolving to take action.” <continued . . .>
Much of President Biden’s environmental agenda, however, remains unfinished and could face political head winds. For example, a few days into his new administration, he called for the nation to assure conservation of 30 percent of its lands and waters by 2030. He assigned the task of forging a conservation plan of action to a team of federal agencies, including departments of Commerce, Interior, and Agriculture. In its “America the Beautiful” report, the administration laid out broad principles and outlined steps the country could take to safeguard key areas on land and in the sea to restore biodiversity, tackle climate change, and make natural spaces more accessible to all Americans. The 22-page document highlights a central challenge for the Biden administration: Having committed to bold environmental goals during early days of the administration, officials now face the more uncertain and contentious task of figuring out how to follow through on those ambitions.
The report, which is essentially a vision statement, does not identify specific places for enhanced protection, define what level of conservation would be required for an area to count toward the administration’s 30 percent goal, or indicate how much federal funding would be needed to make Biden’s vision a reality. It paints a picture of accessible parks, ranchlands that double as wildlife corridors, and farms that store carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. It lays out guiding principles for the program — utilizing scientific research, pursuing projects that create jobs — and calls for a “voluntary and locally led” approach to conservation, in which the federal government provides support and guidance to efforts led by landowners, cities, states, and tribes.
The Washington Post stated that at present about 12 percent of U.S. land and 11 percent of its freshwater ecosystems receive some level of official protection; about 26 percent of U.S. ocean waters are safeguarded. But these figures are a matter of debate. How much of America’s landscapes and waters are already truly “conserved” and how much more can be protected within the next eight years? Conservationists and scientists have identified land and water conservation as a vital mechanism for protecting biodiversity and addressing climate change. The 30x30 target puts the United States on par with a group of more than 50 “high-ambition” nations that have pledged to set aside at least that much land for nature.
Environmental and conservation organizations around the country are maneuvering to seize the apparent opportunity to shape the criteria and specific action steps to achieve the ambitious but vaguely defined “30 by 30” national vision goal.
For example, the Land Trust Alliance (a national association of private land conservation organizations) on May 12 issued a statement: “Last week, the Biden administration provided more clarity on its commitment to conserve 30% of our nation’s lands and waters by 2030 with the release of the Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful report. It is good news for land trusts. The report adds a new legitimacy, energy and urgency to our collective work to conserve land. . . . The Land Trust Alliance stands ready to work with the administration to secure greater incentives and rewards for voluntary land conservation in America. The land trust community will do its part — in partnership with farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, fishers, tribes, government officials and others who make local land conservation so effective — to make the 30x30 goal a reality.”
“This is the very first national conservation goal we have ever set as a country,” White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy said in a call with reporters. “It really reflects the urgency with which we have to respond to a global extinction crisis, the climate crisis and the deep racial and economic disparities that too often dictate who has access to nature.” --Chuck Roe, President, Southern Conservation Partners
Conservation, viewed in its entirety, is the slow and laborious unfolding of a new relationship between people and land.
There is in fact no distinction between the fate of the land and the fate of the people. When one is abused, the other suffers.
From the President
SCP President Chuck Roe looked at land conservation along the route of John Muir's "Southern Trek."
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