30x30 Fact vs. Fiction: Pulling back the curtain on misinformation

Tyler McIntosh
Westwise
Published in
5 min readJun 15, 2021

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Henry’s Lake Nature Conservancy Ranch | Idaho Bureau of Land Management

The Biden administration has established a goal to conserve 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030 for the benefit of all Americans. This goal, known as “30x30,” has been recommended by scientists in order to prevent the collapse of the planet’s natural systems while supporting communities across the country. Conserving land creates jobs and benefits local economies, while at the same time providing fresh drinking water, increasing access to natural spaces, and improving human health.

Within the United States, about a football field’s worth of natural area is converted to human development every 30 seconds. Globally, loss of natural space is resulting in a mass extinction. Scientists have shown that conserving and restoring natural areas is the most effective way to slow extinctions and retain healthy ecosystems.

Although the 30x30 initiative has widespread support from elected leaders, scientists, and the public, a number of bad actors have worked to spread misinformation on the topic. It’s time to set the record straight. Let’s take a look at the established facts.

Fiction: 30x30 is extremely controversial and lacks support.

Fact: 30x30 is extremely popular. Multiple polls have consistently found widespread support for 30x30: 86% of all voters in the United States, including 77% of Westerners and strong bipartisan majorities, support the 30x30 goal.

Fiction: 30x30 is an arbitrary target set by radical advocates for political purposes, not science.

Fact: The 30x30 goal originated from scientific publications with numerous authors, representing a growing consensus of scientists that we’ll need to conserve at least 30% of the planet’s ocean and lands to meet the scale of challenges facing nature. There is broad agreement among scientists that we haven’t conserved nearly enough of our lands, inland waters, and ocean to slow the loss of nature, safeguard biodiversity, and maintain healthy fisheries and wildlife populations.

Fiction: The 30x30 goal is a government land grab and an attack on private property rights.

Fact: In its “America the Beautiful’’ report, the Biden administration made it clear that voluntary private conservation and protecting private property rights will be a pillar of 30x30. Indeed, private land conservation has always been voluntary, and farmers, anglers, ranchers, and other private landowners are some of America’s most effective conservationists. While opponents of 30x30 may say they are striving to protect private land rights, depriving landowners of the ability to voluntarily place land under easement — or steward their lands to conserve biodiversity — is a clear assault on the rights of landowners.

Fiction: The 30x30 initiative will have negative economic consequences.

Fact: In reality, the 30x30 plan has the potential to grow rural economies across the country. Conserved land and water is the backbone of the outdoor recreation industry, which generates $887 billion in economic output nationwide, creates 7.6 million direct jobs, and generates $125 billion in tax revenue. This economic powerhouse far exceeds the impact of gasoline and fuels or pharmaceuticals. Outdoor recreation and tourism provide rural communities — that may otherwise be dependent on the boom and bust cycles of energy development — an opportunity to diversify their economies. In fact, research shows that in the West, protected public lands support faster rates of job growth and higher levels of per capita income.

Fiction: The goal of conserving 30% of America by 2030 is not compatible with our energy needs as a nation.

Fact: We don’t have to choose between meeting our nation’s energy needs and safeguarding natural areas. Through collaborative planning, land and ocean managers and community stakeholders can work together to determine which areas are most appropriate for various forms of energy development to meet our future energy needs, and which lands should be managed to preserve biodiversity. The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan in California is a prime example of effective and collaborative landscape-level planning in which a coalition of stakeholders worked together to determine where conservation, renewable energy development, and recreation opportunities made sense.

Fiction: 30x30 is an effort to lock up land under wilderness designations and limit uses that support rural communities, such as grazing, outdoor recreation, and hunting and fishing.

Fact: The Biden administration has emphasized that efforts to reach the 30x30 goal will rely on varied and flexible methods of land conservation, NOT restrictive and inflexible designations: conservation of working lands, prime hunting and fishing sites such as wildlife refuges, and popular outdoor recreation areas all fit under the 30x30 umbrella. One of the administration’s published initiative priorities is to ensure that conservation expands access to nature for all Americans.

Fiction: Government conservation programs coerce unwilling landowners into conservation.

Fact: Conservation programs through the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior are extremely popular with landowners across the country and have had overwhelming support for decades. These programs are so popular that they are unable to meet demand, demonstrating the need for expansion and funding: the most recent data on federal agricultural conservation program demand reveals that zero programs met all application demand, with an inter-program average of only 44% application fulfillment. The 2018 Farm Bill, which received overwhelming bipartisan support across both chambers of Congress (Senate: 87–13, House: 369–47), reauthorized all major agricultural conservation programs and increased mandatory spending on conservation programs.

Fiction: The 30x30 initiative will require protecting 30% of all states.

Fact: The 30x30 goal does not include prescriptive requirements for conservation, but instead encourages local conservation efforts that are aligned with the needs and interests of nearby communities. 30x30 will look different in every state: some states may be home to large swaths of undisturbed land that can be easily conserved, while others may be highly developed and make smaller contributions to the national goal. Each state, county, and community across the country will need to step back and evaluate the role of conservation in the local landscape, as well as which approaches will work best to be part of the solution.

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Tyler McIntosh
Westwise

Conservation Policy & Research Manager | Center for Western Priorities | Denver, CO