You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Biden Outlines Plan to Preserve More Wilderness

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 5/6/2021 Timothy Puko
a man wearing a suit and tie standing in a room © jim lo scalzo/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON—The Biden administration wants to preserve wildlife habitats by expanding collaboration with private landowners and state and local governments, with less emphasis on putting more land under federal protection, according to a report issued Thursday.

The report, “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful,” provides a preliminary outline of how the administration can pursue a goal President Biden has set to conserve 30% of the country’s land and water by 2030.

Mr. Biden adopted the 30% target from scientists and environmentalists who say it can help stem animal and plant extinctions, threats to water and food supplies and other environmental crises.

About 12% of U.S. land and roughly 23% of U.S. ocean territory is currently under permanent, strong protection, according to the Interior Department, which is leading the administration’s effort.

The report recommends that the National Park Service expand efforts to create new parks in communities with historically limited access to nature.

The report says little else about expanding the federal system of wilderness, monuments and other parkland. It promotes more funding to tribal governments’ conservation programs, and expanded use of existing federal incentives and grant programs for efforts led by local partners, like restoring wildlife migration corridors for elk, pronghorn and other animals.

The report doesn’t recommend any specific new funding measures, but calls for continued funding of existing grant programs to set aside land. Those recommendations highlight programs that include market-based initiatives run by the Fish and Wildlife Service that allow off-site mitigation, credit trading and other measures to get private businesses to lock in habitat protection in some areas while they develop others.

It also recommends an interagency working group build a database for public use called the “American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas” that gathers information on effective programs and measures progress.

Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee said they are encouraged the administration is giving priority to local input and outdoor recreation, top Republican priorities. They also criticized what they called unanswered questions about major initiatives, how the administration will define conservation and the calculations it will use to track its 30% goal.

“This report still falls short of a serious proposal,” the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Bruce Westerman or Arkansas, said in a statement. “The lack of specific details in the report is unacceptable.”

Several environmental groups lauded the strategy of collaboration as a way to find more durable and inclusive solutions. Rallying allies will help accelerate an effort that needs rapid progress, said Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy.

Expanding federal lands “should be a central part of the strategy,” said Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, a partnership including the National Geographic Society that advocates internationally for governments to adopt the 30% goal for 2030, or 30x30. “We can’t reach the 30x30 goal without enhanced public land conservation.”

In its report, the Biden administration says its central recommendation is to soften the blow of federal intervention by leaning on local government and private landowners to volunteer for and lead conservation.

“Rather than simply measuring conservation progress by national parks, wilderness lands, and marine protected areas in the care of the government, the president’s vision recognizes and celebrates the voluntary conservation efforts of farmers, ranchers, and forest owners,” the secretaries of interior, agriculture and commerce, and the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, say in the report’s introductory letter. “The president’s challenge is a call to action to support locally led conservation and restoration efforts of all kinds.”

The report further commits to protecting local economic rights, specifically saying ranching on public and private lands in the West is essential. And it says the country must make its conservation efforts more diverse, both geographically and to reach more underserved and disadvantaged communities.

“Efforts to conserve and restore America’s lands and waters must respect the rights of private property owners,” the report says. “Instead of focusing land conservation efforts primarily on western public lands—as has been a past practice of federal agencies—agencies should support collaborative conservation efforts across the country on private, state, local, tribal, and territorial lands.”

Write to Timothy Puko at tim.puko@wsj.com

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal.
The Wall Street Journal.
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon