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Biden’s plan would boost conservation of U.S. lands, waters

WASHINGTON >> The Biden administration today detailed steps to achieve its goal of conserving about one-third of America’s lands and waters by 2030, relying on voluntary efforts to preserve public, private and tribal areas while also helping tackle climate change and create jobs.

A report, with the lofty title “America the Beautiful,’ ’ from several Cabinet departments, calls for a decadelong commitment on projects from Maine to California, and in Alaska and Hawaii, as well.

The report says this effort will mean thousands of new jobs and a stronger economy while also addressing climate change and environmental justice, including expanded access by disadvantaged communities to the outdoors.

Supporters say President Joe Biden’s goal of conserving at least 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, if successful, will help slow global warming and preserve some of the nation’s most scenic lands for future generations of Americans.

About 12% of the nation’s lands and 25% of its waters are currently protected, according to research by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. Those protected areas include not just parks but also wilderness areas, game refuges, agricultural lands, forests, ranches and other sites with conservation easements.

The plan released today recommends a series of actions, including expansion of a federal grant program to create local parks, especially in cities and other “nature-deprived communities.” The report suggests grants for Native American tribes to support tribal conservation priorities; expansion of fish and wildlife habitats and corridors; increased access for outdoor recreation; and creation of a “civilian climate corps” to work on conservation and restoration projects nationwide.

The plan follows through on a Biden campaign promise and builds on the Great American Outdoors Act, a 2020 law passed by Congress that authorizes nearly $3 billion for conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public lands.

Supporters call the law the most significant conservation statute in nearly half a century. It provides dedicated annual funding for parks and open space projects across the country.

Even with that injection of federal dollars, the Biden plan relies heavily on voluntary conservation efforts by farmers, ranchers, forest owners and fishing communities.

“The president’s challenge is a call to action to support locally led conservation and restoration efforts of all kinds and all over America, wherever communities wish to safeguard the lands and waters they know and love,” the report says. “Doing so will not only protect our lands and waters but also boost our economy and support jobs nationwide.”

The report was signed by three Cabinet members — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — along with Brenda Mallory, who leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

“Nature plays an important role in improving resilience to climate change and creating a thriving economy,” Haaland said at a news conference. “‘America the Beautiful’ is the beginning of an important effort that we can only do together.”

The report “is only the starting point” on a path to fulfill Biden’s conservation vision, the administration officials said in a statement.

“Where this path leads over the next decade will be determined not by our agencies, but by the ideas and leadership of local communities,” they added. “It is our job to listen, learn and provide support along the way to … pass on healthy lands, waters and wildlife to the generations to come.”

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