Washington’s Role in the National Goal to Protect 30% of Lands and Waters

One year ago the administration announced a bold climate vision that includes a national goal of conserving 30% of our lands and waters by 2030. Learn more about the Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful plan and what it could mean for Washington.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
February 04, 2022
Washington’s Role in the National Goal to Protect 30% of Lands and Waters

The Pacific Northwest’s lands and waters provide so many recreational opportunities, from traversing glaciers to camping in lush evergreen forests. But as Mountaineers know well, the future of our recreational pursuits depends on protecting the places we love, now more than ever, as the climate and biodiversity crises reshape outdoor landscapes. Conserving our lands and waters is urgent, and land managers and policymakers must adapt and find new tools to meet these complex challenges.

Vanishing nature

Only 12% of the lands in the United States are permanently protected in their natural condition, and we’re losing a football field's worth of natural area every 30 seconds to human development. The impacts of this disturbing trend, exacerbated by a changing climate, can be seen in our parks, on our trails, and in our communities.

Mountaineers are actively experiencing the impacts of the global climate crisis. From melting glaciers to intensifying wildfires, the places we hold most dear are changing, resulting in more perilous access, a loss of biodiversity, and the degradation of wilderness.

As The Mountaineers continues to deepen our climate advocacy work, we are excited by the role that land conservation will be playing as policymakers work to prevent habitat loss and protect the climate. Strong conservation tactics mean healthier landscapes and healthier people, as recreation opportunities increase when more land becomes protected. 

Protecting 30 percent

You may have heard the latest catchphrase echoing throughout the conservation community: “30 by 30.” This is a global conservation movement to protect 30 percent of the world’s lands and waters by 2030. This campaign arose out of the scientific community’s consensus that we need to conserve more of the world’s lands and waters by 2030 in order to protect biodiversity and the climate.

In order to achieve this ambitious goal, several countries, including the United States, have committed to conserving 30 percent of their lands and waters by 2030. The Biden Administration established its commitment to a national 30 by 30 goal in a January 2021 executive order, focused on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad.

Last spring, the Department of the Interior released its initial road map for how we would meet this lofty conservation goal. The Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful (CRAB) plan isn’t a top-down mandate, but a spark that can help organize and drive conservation efforts by states, Tribes, and local communities to create more green spaces, conserve land, and help reach our climate goals.

It’s going to take urgent action from all levels of government to seize the moment and conserve and restore our nation’s natural landscapes.

Locally-led conservation

What counts toward 30 percent? The details are still being worked out, but we’re probably talking about a combination of state, federal, and local lands and waters, conserved and restored with varying degrees of protection.

The CRAB plan outlines a framework to conserve America’s lands and waters for the benefit of all people. It strives to center collaborative and inclusive approaches to conservation, honor Tribal sovereignty, and respect private property rights and support voluntary stewardship by private landowners.

With 2030 less than a decade away, progress to reach this goal nationally is already underway. The Department of the Interior recently launched a public engagement process to inform the development of an American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas, which will help convey an accessible and comprehensive picture of current conservation efforts and identify gaps and opportunities for future work.

On the ground, implementing 30 by 30 could mean more urban parks, conservation areas, or national monuments, as well as increased Wilderness areas or other protection designations limiting development on existing public lands. This may mean more places to recreate, but more importantly, it means more nature conserved to cleanse the air, provide habitat to wildlife, and maintain clean drinking water.

Western states are off and running

The 30 by 30 goal and the Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful plan have garnered broad support, leading to resolutions on the state level and in Congress. These resolutions have spawned state-led efforts in several states, which hope to determine how they will accomplish the goal of conserving 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030. 

In California and New Mexico, executive orders established the states’ 30 by 30 goals. The Nevada legislature approved a resolution last year, and Colorado is also out in front bringing diverse coalitions of conservation and recreation voices together to build a community-led vision for 30 by 30.

Building momentum in the Evergreen State

What does this mean for Washington? By some metrics, Washington might already meet the 30 percent goal, thanks to our abundance of natural landscapes. However, for us to collectively meet the national goal, some well positioned states are going to need to aim higher. There are positive signs of early support to increase land and water conservation efforts across the state, particularly for our forests.

Washington is losing forestland due to development at an unsustainable rate, spurring a bold conservation vision that is now moving through the state legislature. Keep Washington Evergreen (HB 1895 and SB 5633) directs the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to develop a plan to achieve three important goals by 2040: protect a million acres of the state’s forestland from conversion, reforest one million acres of forests, and restore the health of one million acres of forests.

As a sign of the national 30 by 30 momentum, legislation (SB 5962) was just introduced in the State Senate to establish a 30 by 30 goal for Washington. While it might take more legislative sessions to continue to build momentum for this effort, we hope this positive step will serve as a catalyst for the increased conservation of Washington’s lands and waters.

A win for recreation

We see the America the Beautiful plan and the 30 by 30 goal as important tools to address the challenges facing our public lands and climate. Making progress toward conserving Washington’s lands and waters will also boost the outdoor recreation economy and allow for more equitable access to the outdoors for all communities. Through the Outdoor Alliance Washington network, we’ll be tracking and engaging with these efforts to protect our unique landscapes here in the Northwest.

You can  learn more about conservation at The Mountaineers by signing up for our monthly conservation e-newsletter, Conservation Currents.

Lead image of Olympic Peninsula Beach camping. Photo by Jessie Van Hoy.

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