Understanding 30 x 30

A collaborative and inclusive approach to conservation in the U.S.

While still in the early days of the Biden Administration, there have already been some promising policy developments pertaining to climate change action, environmental justice, and conservation. One such example is the Administration’s recently released preliminary report to the National Climate Task Force titled “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful.” Within this document, leaders from the nation’s natural resource and environmental management departments layout a broad vision to protect 30 percent of the United States’ lands and waters by the year 2030. Colloquially, this has come to be called “30 by 30” (30 x 30) and it is the first time the country has set a national conservation goal.

The initiative is a science-based target aimed at stemming global biodiversity loss, addressing the climate crisis, and ensuring that all people have access to nature. While some have been quick to claim that this effort is some heavy handed, top-down approach, this is anything but the truth. At its core, the 30 x 30 movement is a framework to support a more collaborative approach to expand the relevance and importance of conservation. “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” lays out eight broad principles that, among other features, highlight the importance for inclusive conservation actions, an emphasis on locally led and locally designed efforts, and the necessity to honor tribal sovereignty and to support the priorities of tribal nations.

In the United States, about 12 percent of lands and 26 percent of marine waters are currently in protected areas, though a vast majority of this marine area is the massive Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument located in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Greater geographic and ecosystem representation is a goal of the movement. In Alaska, a variety of ecosystem types still lack meaningful protection. Arctic coastal plain wetland complexes, such as the one around Teshekpuk Lake in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, is an example of a globally significant and culturally irreplaceable landscape that is not currently managed for its ecological health, carbon stores, or  importance to Alaska Native peoples.

The 30 x 30 framework will also help our lands and waters adapt to a warming and climatically uncertain future. An ever-growing body of science shows that whole, functioning, diverse, and connected ecosystems will be the most resilient to climate change. Our ecosystems, and the cultures and economies that depend upon them, will be increasingly rocked by new climate realities in the years ahead. However, meaningfully stewarding our shared lands and waters is our best hope for these systems’ adaptation, and 30 x 30 is the vision that will help us get there.

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