Conservation is engrained within our western way of life. Our livelihood and quality of life out West is reliant upon healthy landscapes which is why we take pride in stewarding the land for current and future generations. Western land users should be seen as partners for accomplishing our conservation goals, not targets. Unfortunately, that is not the approach taken by the Biden administration’s 30 by 30 initiative.
The Biden administration has called to place 30 percent of our lands and waters in “conservation status” by 2030, but time and time again, they have failed to provide more information—much less define “conservation status”—all while simultaneously endorsing preservation policies. We know firsthand that these policies are not the way to address the challenges facing our public lands; they won’t stop devastating wildfires, eradicate invasive weeds, restore our watersheds, or help in recovering species. This — paired with months of unanswered questions — fails to reassure westerners this initiative isn’t a guise to lock up more land, and it fails to reassure us that the administration is taking seriously their responsibility to manage our public lands.
The West is witnessing the culmination of decades of mismanagement in real time: catastrophic wildfires are destroying our homes, wildlife habitat, and landscapes across the West; historic drought conditions and water shortages are leading to damaged crops and struggling livestock; and an abysmal 3 percent success rate plagues species recovery efforts.
In the absence of a plan from Washington, D.C., we did what westerners do best: We rolled up our sleeves and got to work on a conservation approach that works for all because we must have all-hands-on-deck if we are to truly restore and conserve our public lands. As chairmen of the Congressional and Senate Western Caucuses, we worked with folks across the spectrum and heard from those closest to the land.
We’ve put together an alternative to the administration’s 30 by 30 initiative titled, “Western Conservation Principles,” to outline what we and the rural communities we represent believe to be a clearer, outcome-based goal and the tools we need to get there. This blueprint for conservation recognizes the critical human-land interaction that cultivates true conservation. It affirms private property rights. It presents clearer, more measurable, and proven indicators of conservation occurring on lands instead of relying on an ambiguous land status; and it offers time-tested practices and approaches to help us accomplish these goals. More importantly, instead of alienating the efforts of local conservationists, it brings stakeholders across the spectrum to the table as partners, not targets.
We know firsthand that locking up lands with preservationist designations do not automatically guarantee healthy landscapes; in fact, the opposite is often the case. Instead of placing acres of lands under ambiguous conservation status, we propose pursuing healthy landscapes. This means taking steps to increase the percentage of acres meeting health standards and implementing best management practices. We must address the issues plaguing our lands and rural communities, from invasive species to overgrown, diseased, and infested forests—and we’ll need every tool in our toolbox to do so.
We propose streamlining administrative and environmental reviews, auditing existing programs to maximize their benefit, addressing frivolous litigation that seeks to obstruct rather than collaborate, removing administrative, regulatory, and liability burdens that impede critical conservation work; and leveraging partnerships with state, local, and private partners.
We have decades of proof that conservation and working lands are not mutually exclusive but instead, are integrated with multiple-use, responsible development, and active management. Our longest-standing partners in land stewardship are our ranchers, sportsmen, foresters, and landowners. No one knows better the importance of stewarding our resources than those whose livelihoods depends on them. Our lands will thrive when they thrive.
If the administration is serious about restoring America the Beautiful, they must embrace Western Conservation Principles and promote these time-tested, science-based practices we know equate to real conservation outcomes of our lands and waters.
Dan Newhouse represents Washington's 4th Congressional District and serves as Chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus. Steve Daines represents Montana in the U.S. Senate and serves as Chairman of the Senate Western Caucus.