In January, President Biden joined other world leaders in committing to conserve 30 percent of their nations’ lands and oceans by 2030. Also known as “30 by 30,” the pledge aligns government action with the growing recognition by the intelligence community that the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity presents serious risks to the U.S. economy and national security. Risks to the U.S. include the expanded likelihood of wildlife-borne diseases spilling over into our communities, water system challenges, decreased crop production, and increased natural disasters like floods. Reducing these risks will require moving beyond conservation’s traditional concerns of protecting scenery and providing outdoor recreation. Engagement with the private sector to better manage the lands and waters supplying the ecosystem services underlying our national security will need increased prioritization.
The Executive Order announcing the ambitious conservation effort establishes Interior and Agriculture as the endeavor’s lead departments. It is expected that a significant share of the undertaking will fall within the nearly 700 million acres of federal lands administered by agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Lands managed by the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture are concentrated in the 13 western states, a region home to roughly 25 percent of the U.S. population. These public lands are estimated to encompass only 48 percent of the major terrestrial ecosystem types found in the United States.
Federal lands can be important reservoirs of biodiversity and sources of ecosystem services, but they lack the geographic footprint and ecological diversity necessary to mitigate the security and economic risks stemming from environmental degradation. For the 30 by 30 initiative to reduce the threats to communities, the economy, and our national security that stem from ecological degradation, the Biden administration cannot rely exclusively on the federal estate.