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The U.S. Commits to Tripling Its Protected Lands. Here's How it Could Be Done

Jan 28, 2021

In an executive order issued on January 27 to address the climate crisis, President Joe Biden ordered a pause on new oil and gas leases on public lands and created a White House office of environmental justice. He also quietly committed his administration to an ambitious conservation goal—to protect 30 percent of U.S. land and coastal seas by 2030.


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ENVIRONMENT

The U.S. commits to tripling its protected lands. Here’s how it could be done.

In a new executive order, the president promised to protect 30 percent of U.S. land and 30 percent of U.S. oceans by 2030.

White clouds float over an empty field in Upper River Breaks National Monument in Montana. Hundreds of different birds, mammals, and fish exist in their natural state in this wilderness area spanning more than 375,000 acres.

PHOTOGRAPH BY AMY TOENSING, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION

7 MINUTE READ

BY SARAH GIBBENS


PUBLISHED JANUARY 27, 2021

In an executive order issued on January 27 to address the climate crisis, President Joe Biden ordered a pause on new oil and gas leases on public lands and created a White House office of environmental justice. He also quietly committed his administration to an ambitious conservation goal—to protect 30 percent of U.S. land and coastal seas by 2030.

That target, referred to as “30 by 30” by the conservation community, is backed by scientists who argue that reaching it is critical both to fighting climate change and to protecting the estimated one million species at risk of going extinct.

The U.S. is currently conserving around 26 percent of its coastal waters but only about 12 percent of its land in a largely natural state, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

To reach the 30 by 30 target will require conserving an additional area twice the size of Texas, more than 440 million acres, within the next 10 years. The White House has yet to specify who will oversee the initiative at the federal level and which lands and waterways might be prioritized.

Biden’s commitment to conserve 30 percent of U.S. land by 2030 will require a huge increase in protected areas.

Only 12 percent of total U.S. area has sufficient protections to meet the 30 by 30 conservation goal. UNITED STATES

Conservation scientists who have been advocating the idea for years, however, say the secret to pulling it off will be making decisions based on sound science, avoiding shortcuts, and ensuring voices from those most impacted, like rural voters and American Indian tribes, are heard. Biden’s order promises to engage a broad range of stakeholders, including local governments, in the process.

“The conservation crisis is as important as the climate crisis,” says Tom Cors, government relations director for land at the Nature Conservancy. He describes the decision to tackle 30 by 30 as both “daunting and heartening.”

Complete NatGeo article here