Congress has a new opportunity to meaningfully address the climate crisis by setting an ambitious land and water preservation goal for the United States.
The world is losing land, water and wildlife at an alarming rate. One million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction around the globe, and the equivalent of a football field of natural land is lost to development in the United States every 30 seconds.
Humans have irrevocably altered the landscape, worsening the climate crisis with far-reaching and dire consequences for our health and our communities — and every one of our national park sites.
Climate change is so overwhelming, it can feel as though there is nothing we can do to stop the harm it is causing our planet. But there are smart solutions Congress can enact that would start to address this catastrophe, and one of them is a resolution to slow the loss of species and protect lands and waters as we know them, for now and the future.
What would the resolution do?
The resolution, formally known as the “Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature,” is a motion to set a goal for the United States to preserve 30% of its lands and waters by 2030.
Currently, 12% of the country’s lands and 26% of the ocean waters under U.S. jurisdiction are protected, and they play a critical role in addressing the climate crisis. We must expand the acreage of public lands that are safe from development and deforestation, including lands and waters adjacent to national parks, to protect these spaces for recreation, wildlife and ecosystems. The resolution makes clear that the U.S. should be a leader in the global effort to conserve nature by joining the global “30 by 30” commitment.
Further, the resolution recognizes that this goal must be achieved in an equitable and inclusive manner. This means we can’t use a one-size-fits-all approach, and the resolution encourages the federal government to work with local communities, tribes, states and private landowners to conserve natural places and resources through economic incentives, management partnerships and other cooperative strategies.
How does expanding protected lands improve the climate?
The health of the planet depends on green spaces and healthy oceans, and protecting more of both means that these natural spaces can continue to store and absorb the carbon dioxide that contributes to the climate crisis. The rapid loss of America’s natural places has worsened climate change, which has caused dramatic shifts in wildlife habitat, the deterioration of natural environments such as forests and wetlands, threats to historic structures and cultural artifacts, and an increase in extreme events such as wildfires and hurricanes that can hit our parks head-on and create expensive and irreversible damage.
Parks also represent pride in our national heritage and are places of learning and inspiration. They are not just sites where plants and animals find refuge, but where humans increasingly escape, too — be it from the hot summers in urban centers or the stress of daily life. Parks must remain the steadfast anchors in landscapes of disappearing acreage — and we must protect and expand on the natural and cultural gems that remain.
Scientists, including leading biologist E.O. Wilson, have called for protecting 50% of the world’s lands and waters to avert the extinction of thousands of species and maintain stable ecosystems needed for a healthy planet and strong economy. A goal of 30% is an achievable first step toward that vision.
How could the resolution benefit the economy?
So many politicians, scientists and advocates endorse the “30 by 30” idea because it supports not just green spaces, but also a strong economy. E.O. Wilson himself has noted that clean air and water, our food system and other benefits we derive from the natural world don’t just allow our bodies to thrive, but our financial health as well. Our public lands and waters are an economic boon to the nation — providing stable benefits on the order of nearly $900 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million jobs. Setting aside more spaces where people can play would only increase those numbers.
How will the resolution affect private property rights?
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The resolution recognizes the sovereign rights of tribal nations, upholds private property rights, and acknowledges and supports the critical role that farmers, ranchers and other private landowners play in conserving healthy natural systems. About 60% of the lands in the contiguous United States are in private hands. It’s imperative that federal land managers forge cooperative partnerships with private landowners, offering fiscal incentives for conservation to encourage them to willingly set land aside for protection so that they too can be part of the “30 by 30” goal.
What are next steps for the resolution?
Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced the bill in the Senate in October 2019, and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives in February 2020. You can urge your members of Congress to cosponsor these bills — an important step to show support ahead of a vote. Congress is currently adjourned but could be back in session as soon as May with a full slate of legislation to consider. Hearing from constituents is one of the single most important factors lawmakers consider when deciding what bills to prioritize.
About the author
Ani Kame’enui Deputy Vice President, Government Affairs
Ani Kame’enui is the Deputy Vice President for the Government Affairs team and responsible for managing NPCA's policy portfolio across a range of park issues. She comes to NPCA with a background in geology, water resources engineering, and a love for natural resource science and policy.