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Ag groups encouraged by agriculture’s role in 30x30 plan

Getty Images working lands conservation waterways Iowa field
Private landowners will be closely watching how Biden administration looks to collaborate on working lands and private lands.

The Biden administration outlined ideas May 6 in achieving the nationwide conservation goal to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. As the report was identified as “big on ideas, short on details,” by the American Farm Bureau Federation, several groups weighed in on how this administration will proceed in accomplishing its lofty conservation goals.

The preliminary report - Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful - is a joint effort from the United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, Department of Commerce and Council on Environmental Quality. It is the Administration’s initial effort toward developing the executive order signed in President Biden’s first days of office.

The “30x30” or “America the Beautiful” plan lists eight guiding principles, including a pursuit of collaborative approaches; a commitment to supporting the voluntary conservation efforts of farmers, ranchers, and fishers; and honoring of Tribal sovereignty and private property rights.

Related: Biden administration offers insight into 30x30 plan

“The report is a philosophical document that emphasizes important principles such as incentive-based voluntary conservation, protecting personal and property rights and continued ranching on public lands, but it lacks specifics,” says AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “AFBF appreciates that the report acknowledges concerns we have raised and recognizes the oversized contributions of farmers and ranchers to conservation while feeding the world. That recognition must carry through implementation.”

Because farmers and ranchers steward about 44% of the United States’ landmass, the National Farmers Union maintains that it is absolutely essential that agriculture is incorporated into broader conservation endeavors. In a statement, NFU President Rob Larew says he was pleased that the administration’s report takes the sector’s important role into account and that he looks forward to working with them to develop the principles into a fully fleshed-out plan.

Larew says when the administration first announced its plans to conserve 30% of the nation’s land NFU had a lot of questions about what that might mean for agriculture. “After sharing those concerns with the administration, we are heartened that our feedback was taken seriously and incorporated into the final principles,” Larew says.

Duvall too shares he had several positive conversations with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about 30x30. “We will work with him and his colleagues to ensure the details live up to promises made to protect American agriculture,” Duvall says.

The report lays out a 10-year roadmap for conservation that includes many of the priorities that are most important to cattle and sheep producers, including the protection of private property rights, learning from successful working lands management and leveraging the expertise of ag producers for the benefit of lands, wildlife, and all land users, notes the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council. Kaitlynn Glover, NCBA executive director of natural resources and PLC executive director, adds many of their recommendations also were included in the conservation plan.

“This is a productive starting point that builds on the input of a diverse array of stakeholders — and moving forward, our focus will be on holding the administration and federal agencies to it," says Glover. "Over the next decade, livestock producers will continue doing what they've done for generations — manage their lands in a way that promotes conservation and good environmental outcomes and share that expertise with federal agencies."

NCBA and PLC say they have long advocated for conservation policy that is based on science and fact, not emotion or political rhetoric. Direct emissions from cattle account for only 2% of the United States' overall greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock grazing significantly improves soil health, increasing the capacity of grasslands to sequester carbon out of the atmosphere. The U.S. cattle and beef industry has had the lowest greenhouse gas emissions intensity in the world since 1996. Between 1961 and 2018, the U.S. beef industry reduced emissions by more than 40% through continued sustainability efforts and improved resource use. Last year, corn going to feed beef cattle represented only 7% of all the harvested corn grain in the United States. 

Working land opportunities

The report says the government looks to recognize and reward the voluntary conservation efforts of private landowners. Notably, it also emphasizes the idea of “conservation” rather than “protection” or “preservation,” emphasizing that many uses of our lands and waters, including farming and ranching, can be consistent with environmental sustainability.

The American Soybean Association say it is a champion of policies that will maintain and improve environmental and economic sustainability of soy growers. The association has continually underscored the importance of voluntary and incentive-based policies that reward early adopters of conservation practices and incentivize future adoption. “As ASA policy staff continue reviewing the plan and what it will mean for soy growers, it is encouraging to see the report’s emphasis on voluntary efforts and recognition for those adopters,” ASA notes.

The National Association of Conservation Districts says it is pleased the interagency leaders recognize the importance of locally-led conservation outlined in the report. NACD President Michael Crowder says, “Conservation districts were created to work directly with landowners and local communities to implement conservation, and the goals of adding additional conservation across the country represent a significant opportunity to advance conservation on both private and public lands.”

Crowder says, “Conservation districts appreciate the report’s recognition of the important efforts of working lands conservation.”

The report clarifies an emphasis on conservation rather than preservation or protection as a means of achieving the administration’s goals. While there are many opportunities to improve conservation on public lands, the opportunities are many times greater to increase conservation on private lands, NACD says. Millions of private acres are actively in federal conservation programs or are being managed using effective conservation plans.

“We are encouraged that the preliminary report recognizes additional stakeholder input will be important to inform progress and urge the administration to consider creating a formal public comment period for stakeholders to respond,” Crowder says. “We look forward to working with the National Climate Task Force and the interagency leaders to continue this dialogue, provide formal input, and convene stakeholders across the U.S. to ensure local perspectives are heard and incorporated into the initiative.”

NACD says it is developing more comprehensive formal comments on the preliminary report that will be reflective of the perspectives of the nation’s 3,000 conservation districts, and the association will also participate in informal discussions with the administration and stakeholder groups.

Andrew Bowman, president & CEO of the Land Trust Alliance, says the nearly 1,000 member land trusts supports the goals, principles and recommendations outlined in the report, and appreciated its recognition of how central locally led conservation efforts will be in meeting the 30x30 goal.

“The Land Trust Alliance stands ready to work with the administration to secure greater incentives and rewards for voluntary land conservation in America,” Bowman says. “And the land trust community will do its part – in partnership with farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, fishermen, tribes, government officials and others who make local land conservation so effective – to make the 30x30 goal a reality.”

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