The Biden Administration has made the environment and climate change central to their goals for the next four years. They recently released “The Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” report which outlines their vision to conserve 30% of U.S. Lands and freshwater by 2030, also known as the 30x30 proposal. While stakeholders read through the report there’s a lot of questions circulating including trying to understand the full impact.
RFD-TV recently interviewed Arizona Farm Bureau President Stefanie Smallhouse. While you can also view this interview in the embedded video, we share some additional information from American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) too.
Have you had the chance to review the report and what is the perspective of your members in Arizona?
Smallhouse: I have reviewed the report. Although it’s not very detailed as to how the 30 x 30 vision will be achieved and it speaks loudly to locally-led conservation, which is so important - there are certainly some concerns with it conceptually.
It sounds like you are weighing the good and the bad, so to speak. What can you tell us about the highlights and what might be concerning?
Smallhouse: The report recognizes the existing efforts of farmers and ranchers and the role we play in conserving land and water and the history of government land designations that have essentially evicted private landowners from their properties - which is greatly appreciated. It also generally states the importance of maintaining grazing on public lands. It highlights some existing tools for land managers on working lands that are quite valuable to farmers and ranchers and includes statements as to the importance of flexibility. So, all of that is great. But we also have major concerns.
Of those concerns, what are the most pressing farmers and ranchers, as well as the public in general, should be concerned with?
Smallhouse: We basically have three major concerns with the entire premise of the effort. Data Collection/ Expansion of federal land ownership/ Ignoring current conservation challenges.
1. It will require an immense amount of data collection, some of which is very difficult to obtain - like on the ground species-specific data for endangered species and possibly quite intrusive into farm and ranch practices. What will qualify as " managed for conservation"?
2. It will be very difficult for the federal government to have this much control over land and water use without either expanding its land ownership by an additional 440 million acres in the next 10 years (that is twice the size of Texas) or creating new and very restrictive regulations over agriculture, mining and energy use. There is already a backlog in the billions of maintenance issues on federally managed lands and since 2016 the millions of acres burned in massive wildfires on federally managed lands was 60% higher than on non-federally owned lands with very different management styles. Federal land ownership is very detrimental to the tax base in the west and severely hampers local government’s ability to invest in schools, infrastructure and economic development. We all know how our rural communities and economies are struggling already.
3. Perhaps most importantly, the report in no way recognizes the current conservation challenges which should be addressed first. The National Environmental Policy Act was meant to keep projects moving on federal lands while taking the environment into consideration. Unfortunately, today, it is quite dysfunctional due to rampant and egregious litigation which just serves to handicap federal land management agencies so that ranchers have a very difficult time getting conservation infrastructure on the land. The Natural Resource Conservation Service has been understaffed for several years - making it difficult to get conservation projects on the ground and there are many programs created in the name of species conservation that is not working for multiple reasons. We need to address these problems first. In fact, if the federal government were to fix these ongoing issues - it is likely the conservation accounting would be in the black without having to increase regulation, take land out of production, or kill rural communities.
On the National Level, AFBF also Shares 30x30 Proposal Concerns
American Farm Bureau shared similar concerns to Arizona Farm Bureau.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall commented on the Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful report, also known as 30x30 by saying, “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. 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. I had several positive conversations with [United States Department of Agriculture], Secretary Vilsack, about 30x30 and we will work with him and his colleagues to ensure the details live up to promises made to protect American agriculture.”
Speaking to AgriTalk, Ryan Yates, managing director of public policy for the AFBF, suggests the simple plan continues to generate lots of questions.
“When you look at that executive order that was signed in January, it doesn't say a whole lot,” Yates said on ‘AgriTalk’ radio. “What do you mean by conserving 30% of all lands and waters by 2030? And the conversations that we've had with Secretary Vilsack and USDA, and his comments earlier in the week, I think there's just not enough information about how the administration plans to achieve these goals.”
One thing various agriculture groups have concurrently said is that they appreciate the recognition given within the proposal to farmers and ranchers.