New order sets goal to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters

Last week, U.S. President Biden called for the conservation of 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030, a goal — commonly referred to as “30 by 30” — that is just one part of a wide-ranging executive order developed to address climate change.

The order also created a Climate Conservation Corps and paused any new oil and gas leases on federal lands.

The Department of the Interior noted that while about 60% of the land in the contiguous United States is in a natural state, it is being converted or developed at a rate of a football field every 30 seconds —  1.5 million acres annually. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, only 12% of U.S. lands are permanently protected, meaning they are public lands managed by agencies, preserves owned by nonprofits or private lands protected via conservation easement.

During the last Congress, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), whom Biden has nominated to be Secretary of the Interior, introduced a resolution expressing support for the United States to embrace the 30 by 30 goal, as did former Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.). However, the idea of protecting 30% of the planet’s land and water is not new; scientists and conservation organizations throughout the world have expressed support for the idea in recent years.

Under the order, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture will be required to report on the steps their departments will take to achieve the conservation goal, working with partners such as state, local and tribal governments, landowners and conservation groups.

The administration is expected to tackle the 30 by 30 goal through a variety of administrative and regulatory mechanisms, and it will also likely be advanced in legislative proposals, such as appropriations measures, the next Farm Bill, and the reintroduction of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

The executive order also calls on the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to develop a new Climate Conservation Corps, with goals of conservation, carbon sequestration, and addressing climate change, among others. The Secretaries have 90 days to develop a strategy for implementing the Corps.

In addition, the order freezes the issuance of new leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters, so that a thorough review of the federal oil and gas program can be conducted. The measure does not affect leases that have already been granted to develop energy on federal lands or waters. While supported by many, particularly groups focused on climate change, the freeze is being met with controversy on Capitol Hill and is the subject of at least one lawsuit, with more expected.

Header Image: U.S. President Biden issued an executive order calling for the conservation of 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. Credit: Tim Williams/USFWS