The Biden administration provided the outline Thursday for its “America the Beautiful” initiative, releasing a report compiled by multiple Cabinet agencies outlining a collaborative vision for restoring and conserving America’s lands, waters and wildlife over the next decade.
The report builds on an executive order issued by President Biden in his earliest days in office, which ordered federal agencies to submit a report on how the U.S. can conserve “at least 30% of our lands and waters by 2030."
The administration will rely on “locally led and voluntary nationwide” efforts to meet President Joe Biden’s ambitious goal to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and water, but offered few specifics on how they would use federal resources to achieve those goals. An estimated cost for the initiative was not provided.
The report, compiled by the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce and the White House Council on Environmental Quality and submitted to the National Climate Task Force, revolves around eight principles to guide the nationwide effort:
- Pursue a Collaborative and Inclusive Approach to Conservation
- Conserve America’s Lands and Waters for the Benefit of All People
- Support Locally Led and Locally Designed Conservation Efforts
- Honor Tribal Sovereignty and Support the Priorities of Tribal Nations
- Pursue Conservation and Restoration Approaches that Create Jobs and Support Healthy Communities
- Honor Private Property Rights and Support the Voluntary Stewardship Efforts of Private Landowners and Fishers
- Use Science as a Guide
- Build on Existing Tools and Strategies with an Emphasis on Flexibility and Adaptive Approaches
“The President’s challenge is a call to action to support locally led conservation and restoration efforts of all kinds and all over America, wherever communities wish to safeguard the lands and waters they know and love,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory wrote in the report. “Doing so will not only protect our lands and waters but also boost our economy and support jobs nationwide.”
The plan recommends a series of actions, including expansion of a federal grant program to create local parks, especially in cities and other “nature-deprived communities″ The report also suggests grants for Native American tribes to support tribal conservation priorities; expansion of fish and wildlife habitats and corridors; increased access for outdoor recreation; and creation of a “civilian climate corps” to work on conservation and restoration projects nationwide.
The report urges the Biden Administration to incentivize “voluntary conservation efforts” among farmers, ranchers, fishers and forest owners, as well as work with local and Tribal leaders to create more parks and expand fish and wildlife preserves.
Roughly 12% of the United States' lands and 25% of the nation's waters are protected, according to a 2018 study from the Center for American Progress — those lands include parks, game refuges, forests, ranches and more.
“As the country works to recover and rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic and fully address the climate crisis, now is the time to develop and pursue a locally led, nationally scaled effort to conserve, connect, and restore the lands, waters, and wildlife upon which we all depend,” the report says. “The America the Beautiful campaign … builds on the nation’s proud and collaborative stewardship traditions, and strives to give every person in America — present and future — the chance to experience the freedoms, joys, bounties, and opportunities that the nation’s rich and vibrant lands and waters provide.”
“Rising to meet this conservation challenge will improve the nation’s resilience against climate change and strengthen the foundation of America’s economy,” the report continues.
Environmental advocates celebrated the release of the report, saying they were encouraged by the administration’s conservation efforts.
“We are encouraged by this plan to implement the first-ever national conservation goal,” Brian O’Donnell, the Director of Campaign for Nature, said in a statement. “Safeguarding nature is essential for a healthy planet and economy.”
Advocacy group Earthjustice applauded the Biden administration’s efforts: “We thank the administration for putting forward this report and committing to better management of our lands and waters in a way that prioritizes equitable participation, environmental justice, Tribal sovereignty, and local leadership at every step.”
“This is a critical opportunity for Americans to come together to build a new, more inclusive model of conservation to save nature, and ultimately ourselves,” Mitch Bernard, President and Chief Counsel of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.
"This report shows that the Biden-Harris administration is committed to the kind of bold, comprehensive policies that parks need to thrive in the 21st century," Matt Kirby, the Director of Landscape Conservation for the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement. "Now the administration must take action to make this vision 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. “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.”
“This is an exciting start, it's not the end,” McCarthy added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.