30 by 30 Intiative has grave implications – May 2021
President Biden signed several executive orders soon after he took office. One of those which has generated a lot of concern and controversy is his “30 by 30” order. In a press release from the Department of Interior on January 27, it said the action would outline steps to achieve the President’s commitment to conserve at least 30% each of our lands and waters by the year 2030. The release goes on to say the Biden Administration will work to achieve this goal by supporting local, state, private, and tribally led nature conservation and restoration efforts that are underway across America.
Since the executive order was signed, there have been a lot of questions raised about what the President really is seeking to accomplish.
In recent conversations with United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, state Farm Bureau presidents have repeatedly asked for details on the 30 by 30 proposal. In addition, President Duvall has also asked the Secretary for information on this initiative.
The Secretary of Interior is leading this effort and if her voting record in the House is any indication, it does not bode well for many of us in agriculture. Several questions have been raised about what exactly “conserve” would look like with this initiative. Farmers and ranchers are the biggest group of landowners in the U.S. Naturally, people who have private lands are concerned as to what this could mean to them. Would conserve mean conservation easements? If so, what would be allowed under conservation easements to accomplish the 30 by 30 goal? There are some supporters of the President who have raised concerns about the impact agriculture has had on nature. If conserve in this initiative mean we will need to revert the landscape to what it might have looked like prior to when Europeans came to this continent, then a lot of farmers and ranchers will have to stop farming and ranching.
It has not escaped our notice that Congress permanently funded the Land & Water Conservation program after holding the line on this for a long time. One of the things that those funds can be used for is to purchase private lands.
We in the West, however, are not ignorant to the fact that between the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, the two agencies manage about 30% of the land mass in the United States. When it comes to implementing policies, naturally asking your own land managers to implement an executive order is a lot easier than trying to come up with a program to do the same on private lands. Of course, again, we must wonder what this “conserve” term would mean on federal lands. If the idea is to try and manage all the rest of federal lands like they do wilderness areas or parks, then the ability to utilize the 48% of the federal surface area in Wyoming for economic activity will be significantly limited. While Congress must designate lands as “wilderness” we have seen where Congress doesn’t have to act to designate these lands. By not acting the federal agencies must manage those identified lands as wilderness until Congress acts on the recommendation.
Even then there are federal laws on how these lands should be managed. WyFB policy has long supported utilizing federal lands as multiple use lands and Congress has agreed. So how does the Administration accomplish the goal of 30 by 30 if they concentrate on federal lands? First, they would review areas where lands with wilderness characteristics have been identified and try to expand those areas. Then managers could seek to place unrealistic requirements on federal land users which, in the case of grazing, simply would make the continuation of using federal lands uneconomical.
If there are some stubborn folks out there who can hang on to their grazing permits, the federal land management agencies can one-by-one seek to find enough violations by those permittees to then cancel their permits. This will be time consuming of course, but one thing we know about a bureaucracy is that it can be patient and persistent.
The other part of the 30 by 30 plan is to conserve 30% of the water too. This has a lot of implications also. Too many to go into in this column.
All told whether the goal is to utilize private lands or public lands to accomplish the goal, we in agriculture will be on the front lines.
By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President