NPCA, along with partners, submitted the following letter to 2020 presidential candidates.
Dear Presidential Candidates:
The declining condition of and access to nature in America poses a grave and growing threat to our nation’s prosperity and well-being. We urge you to confront America’s nature crisis by adopting strong, inclusive, and ambitious plans for protecting and restoring the country’s natural lands, waters, and wildlife for the benefit of all communities.
Our nation is experiencing and confronting the impacts of a natural world that is under intensifying strain. Unquestionably, the climate crisis imperils the water, air, and food supplies upon which every living thing in our country depends. The rapid disappearance of America’s natural areas – happening at a rate of a football field every thirty seconds – is pushing thousands of animals and plants toward the brink of extinction.1 About a million species are threatened with extinction worldwide, including over 1,600 species in the U.S. already protected by the Endangered Species Act.2 The loss of forests endangers the drinking water and clean air of cities and towns across the country, and impairs nature’s ability to capture and store carbon. Pollution and over-exploitation of the oceans harms marine species and hurts coastal communities whose economies depend on abundant fish stocks and clean beaches. A sprawling network of industrial development threatens natural, cultural, and sacred sites across the country.
Our future depends on our ability to better protect and restore America’s lands, waters, and wildlife. The President of the United States must champion this effort by leading in every possible way to help local communities, tribal nations, states, private landowners, and others conserve nature in a way that honors the diversity of experiences, needs, and cultures in our country. Nature should be conserved by the people and for the people.
The scope and scale of America’s nature crisis demands that every presidential candidate’s policy platform provide clear and concrete proposals to better protect and restore lands, waters, and wildlife for the benefit and enjoyment of all people and future generations. The undersigned groups agree that three core policy ideas should underpin any plan.
Nature for all: Share nature’s benefits more equitably, make nature accessible to everyone, and honor the conservation needs of all communities.
Our country has a long tradition of conserving lands, waters, and wildlife in the public trust – for the benefit and enjoyment of all people. This is one reason why the American system of national parks, national monuments, national marine sanctuaries, and other public lands is the envy of the world. Yet, the promises of equitable access to nature, the distribution of its benefits, and the just treatment of all communities’ natural and cultural stewardship priorities, are far from being fulfilled. Racism, exclusion, and injustice have shaped nearly every aspect of the nation’s natural resource policies. These legacies persist in many forms, including more industrial pollution and fewer parks in and near low-income communities, a lack of culturally and historically significant parks and monuments attributed to diverse communities, under-representation of people of color in federal natural resource agencies, the displacement of indigenous peoples to create public parks, and the sovereign interests of tribal nations being persistently ignored.
A president must confront these legacies and work to conserve nature for the benefit of all members of society, especially those that have been adversely affected by inequitable and unjust policies. A president’s conservation plans should be informed by formal consultation with tribal nations and meaningful engagement with traditionally underserved communities to honor their needs and priorities. A president’s conservation policy platform should include: a goal of ensuring that everyone in the U.S. can, by 2030, access a quality park or open space near their home; fully funding the conservation, management, upkeep, and protection of local, state and federal public lands, open-space and recreation facilities; addressing the disproportionate legacy of pollution; enhancing access and creating new outdoor opportunities for underserved communities; and ensuring that our system of parks, open-spaces and public lands are managed by, and are welcoming of, all people, and reflects the histories, cultures, languages, and needs of all people.
30x30: Establish a national goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s land and oceans by 2030.
To confront the rapid loss of America’s natural places and wildlife, the U.S. needs to accelerate land and ocean protection and restoration efforts at all levels of government and across the country. According to ecologist Edward O. Wilson and other scientists, roughly half of all lands and waters should be conserved in a natural condition if we want to prevent most wildlife species from going extinct, and if we want our children and grandchildren to have continued access to clean water, clean air, and secure food supplies.3 As a step toward this longer-term goal, the U.S. should establish a national goal of protecting and restoring 30% of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030 (30x30). Currently, only 12% of U.S. lands and 26% of U.S. oceans (almost exclusively in the western Pacific and northwestern Hawaii) are protected.4
A 30x30 conservation goal would help mobilize the full scope of America’s conservation capacities, and paired with the “Nature for All” goal will empower local communities to develop and implement strategies to protect and restore the natural places that are most essential and most at risk. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, pursuing a 30x30 goal must be done in a way that recognizes the geographic, social, and cultural diversity of the country; advances national, regional, and locally-tailored conservation solutions; and better supports the stewardship efforts of private landowners and the private sector. It is vital that a president conduct formal consultation with tribal nations on a 30x30 goal and support tribal communities achieving a paired conservation and natural resource vision.
Climate solutions: Combat climate change by making public lands pollution-free.
The federal government manages nearly 30% of all lands and billions of ocean acres off our shores on behalf of all taxpayers.5 These forests, wetlands, coastal marshes, desert soils and grasslands absorb and store carbon and are a powerful ally in the fight against climate change. Yet these natural assets are under great stress. The federal government’s outdated and unbalanced coal, oil, and gas programs ensure these publicly-owned lands and waters produce far more greenhouse gas pollution than they absorb, accounting for nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions annually.6 In fact, according to government research, emissions from energy extraction on federally-managed lands and oceans has been contributing roughly four times more greenhouse gas emissions than federal lands have been absorbing naturally.7 This must change.
Our nation’s president has the opportunity to turn America’s public lands and oceans from a climate change problem into an important part of the climate solution by directing federal agencies to ensure these lands, waters, and oceans capture and store more climate emissions than they produce and transition to net-negative emissions by 2030. To meet this target, federal agencies will need to take immediate and aggressive steps to rein in pollution from the federal fossil fuel leasing program, and reform federal energy programs to advance well-sited, wildlife-friendly clean energy projects on public lands and oceans. Additionally, federal agencies must increase natural absorption of pollution through reforestation and restoration projects that create jobs, protect the most important carbon-storing systems, such as old-growth forests, and manage all lands to improve their health and resilience.
Any president who acts urgently to address the decline of nature in America would be supported by a strong bi-partisan majority of Americans who understand such action is good for our economy, our health and future generations.
On behalf of the millions of members represented by the undersigned organizations, we urge you to confront America’s nature crisis by adopting strong, inclusive, and ambitious plans for protecting and restoring the country’s natural lands, waters, and wildlife for the benefit of all communities.
Alaska Wilderness League
American Hiking Society
Center for American Progress
Defenders of Wildlife
Friends of the Earth US
League of Conservation Voters
National Parks Conservation Association
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Defense Council
The Nature Conservancy
The Trust for Public Land
The Wilderness Society
1. January 18, 2019. Loss and fragmentation of natural lands in the conterminous U.S. from 2001 to 2017. Conservation Science Partners. Retrieved from: https://www.csp-inc.org/public/CSP%20Disappearing%20US%20Exec%20Summary%20011819.pdf
2. May 6, 2019. UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented,’ Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating” Retrieved from: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/
3. March 12, 2016. The Global Solution to Extinction. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/opinion/sunday/the-global-solution-to-extinction.html
4. December 4, 2018. Measuring Conservation Progress in North America. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from: https://www.americanprogress.org/article/measuring-conservation-progress-north-america/
5. March 3, 2017. Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42346.pdf
6. November 23, 2018. Federal Lands Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sequestration in the United States: Estimates for 2005–14. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved from: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/sir20185131
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Former Deputy Vice President, Government Affairs