The Biden-Harris administration just completed a public comment period on the proposed American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas, a tool that will play a key role in determining how lands and waters are conserved and restored in our country. Throughout the 60-day comment period, LCV members sent thousands of messages in support of ambitious actions to protect our lands and waters.
Communities across the country are increasingly facing the horrific consequences of climate change fueled disasters and the rapid loss of nature and biodiversity. In the face of these extraordinary challenges, the administration has already committed to protecting 30% of the United States’ lands, water, and ocean by 2030 (known as 30×30). To guide their work towards their 30×30 goal, the administration is developing a new tool, the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas. The Atlas offers one of the clearest assessments available of the climate and biodiversity benefits that a given landscape in the U.S. provides, which will help guide decisions about conserving and restoring America’s lands and waters. For the past two months, the public has made their voices heard and provided the administration with their input on how to tackle these difficult issues head on.
Among LCV’s main asks for the Atlas was an emphasis on access and equity for all. No matter where they live, people need safe and close-to-home opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Though nature protection and access to nature can complement one another, the solutions to each of these challenges may look different and should be tracked separately.In order to remedy longrunning inequities in outdoor access, commenters called for special focus to be granted to prioritizing and measuring close-to-home conserved areas, especially within and adjacent to historically underserved communities with inequitable access to nature.
Commenters also made calls to address the climate crisis in the Atlas by prioritizing conservation measures that deliver positive climate resilience and mitigation outcomes. This requires taking into account differences across jurisdictions and geographies, but should include creating new national monuments, wildlife refuges, and other conserved areas on public lands, as well as enduring and significant conservation measures on private lands. Additionally, commenters called on the administration to work in partnership with Tribal Nations to determine how best to capture the ecological integrity and value of Tribally-managed landscapes in the Atlas, which remain largely ecologically intact.
More than a dozen leaders from our state partners across the country also spoke in support of these strong conservation standards at the virtual listening sessions. Here are a few highlights from some of the Conservation Voter Movement’s testimonies on why we need urgent and ambitious action:
Andrew Sierra, Nevada Conservation League: “To meet this ambitious goal and expand protections for our treasured areas, Nevadans are calling for the designation of Avi Kwa Ame National Monument – not only is it one of the most visually stunning and biologically diverse lands in the Mojave Desert, but it’s also a sacred area for several Indigenous tribes.”
Tonyisha Harris, Illinois Environmental Council: “The Atlas can create a baseline for how and where nature-based climate solutions are critically needed… By providing a snapshot of the pressing environmental issues communities are facing, cities like Chicago can implement solutions that address the nuisances of individual community needs.”
Maureen Drouin, Maine Conservation Voters: “America the Beautiful’s emphasis on flexible, locally-led, and collaborative approaches to conservation is important to Maine. Ninety-five percent of our land is privately owned, yet we consider 20% of our total land base to be conserved – a large part through the purchase of conservation easements.”
Greg Peters, Conservation Voters New Mexico: “We believe the atlas should accurately represent the complexity of land management and ownership in the West and acknowledge indigenous contributions to reaching the 30×30 goals that are outside of traditional land use designations.Our indigenous communities are the original land managers and have a wealth of experience in properly caring for our landscapes.”
Aaron McCall, California Environmental Voters: “If the Biden Administration wishes to conserve and restore our nation’s lands and waters from the worst impacts of climate change, we must end devastating fossil fuel extraction including new oil and gas leasing and permitting. Continuing these practices are counterproductive to the biodiversity, climate, and equity goals.”
Avery Hildebrand, Conservation Minnesota: “We would like to see a conservation and stewardship atlas that doesn’t just count our existing public lands but tracks and categorizes opportunities for growth to ensure that future generations have increased and more equitable access to parks and trails, natural areas, and expanded outdoor recreation opportunities. We’d also like to see that the atlas be a useable tool for all Americans to easily find their own opportunities for getting outside and onto public lands, no matter where they are.”
Amanda Gangwish, Nebraska Conservation Voters: “In Nebraska, our land is over 97 percent privately-owned. Here, and in many states similar to ours, private landowners will play a vital role in the development and implementation of any new conservation goals and initiatives. A strong relationship, between not only the private landowners, but the local governments and leaders, will be of the utmost importance. We are encouraged to see this administration recognize the importance of landowners’ role in meeting specific targets and goals and we would continue to stress the importance of making that stakeholder group a key partner in the development of any future initiatives.”
Bentley Johnson, Michigan League of Conservation Voters: “Michigan LCV is excited about the Atlas helping to guide and align these efforts at the state level. But we are also greatly concerned about the huge challenges in front of us: the biodiversity crisis, a lack of equitable access to the outdoors in communities of color and low-income residents, and of course the climate crisis.”
Hollie Conde, Rep.Merrill Beyeler, Conservation Voters for Idaho: “Farmers, ranchers, and private landowners have proven themselves as some of our most effective conservationists. Their dedication to conservation should be recognized alongside the efforts of our public land managers. So too should the collaboration between local government, private landowners, and federal agencies. It is imperative that the definition of conserved space used by this Atlas supports private landowners committed to voluntarily protecting their property by providing the tools, financial resources, and incentives necessary to restore degraded natural areas and manage private resources sustainably.”
Jen Giegerich, Wisconsin Conservation Voters: “Natural areas must be accessible to all people. In some urban communities such as Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, and Kenosha resources are already strained and personal budgets to visit Wisconsin’s natural environment are limited. A trip to our beloved Northwoods, where most state funding has gone, or federal lands like the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore can be an unreachable dream for many.
That’s why urban parks and trails are vital to the physical and mental health of Wisconsin residents and why we should prioritize funding in areas where all races and socioeconomic classes of people live.”
Josh Klainberg, New York League of Conservation Voters: “In order to ensure alignment with New York’s 30 x 30 goals, we are hopeful that the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas measures conservation in ways that promote biodiversity, preserve open spaces, protect green spaces in urban areas, and advance environmental justice and equitable access to nature.”
Lindsay Cross, Florida Conservation Voters: “We know that people in our under-resourced communities, particularly Black and Brown neighborhoods have less access to nature. It is not right to deny safe and equitable access to natural areas for people to recreate and gather for the improvement of their physical and mental health…This Atlas can help support the existing programs that we have in Florida by providing a visual representation of where we need to protect more water and land for wildlife and people.”
Beau Kiklis, Conservation Colorado: “The American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas should prioritize conservation measures that build community resilience while conserving native species and lands.”