The Center for American Progress recently released “The Race for Nature,” the third report in a continuing series on strategies for achieving a “30 x 30” conservation goal.

We continue to explore implications for conservation from both the coronavirus and the movement for social justice. This week we profile a proposal for responding to the pandemic’s economic impacts on family farms and forests and advancing the conservation of nature. 

Why are proposals so important right now? In a crisis, when pressure is on to respond, the ideas on the table are the ones that usually get picked up. With the pandemic’s economic and social impacts likely long-lasting, now is the time for outlining thoughtful strategies. 

In late June, the Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive, non-partisan policy institute, released “The Race for Nature,” the third in its series of reports on how the United States can protect 30 percent of its land and ocean by 2030, also known as the “30 x 30” conservation goal. 

“The Race for Nature” is a policy proposal for dramatically scaling up private land conservation. Prior CAP reports have documented that “the disappearance of natural areas— which occurs at a rate of a football field every 30 seconds” is most acute on private lands. “Urban sprawl, oil and gas extraction, and other industrial uses consumed more than 45,000 square miles of farms, ranches, and private working forests in a recent two decade span.” 

Family-owned farms, ranches, and forest lands have been a bulkhead for long-term stewardship and conservation, however. Yet, notes the CAP report, “the coronavirus-induced economic collapse … will likely deal a catastrophic blow to families who make their living off their lands…. Economists have already documented a roughly 25 percent increase in farm bankruptcies since 2019, and bankruptcies will likely continue to rise sharply in the months ahead.” This leads to more land being sold off to less conservation-oriented owners and uses. 

To address this “The Race for Nature” proposes immediate expansion and acceleration of the nation’s conservation easement programs to provide farmers with much needed cash in return for development rights. The 10-year national effort “would lead to a tenfold increase in the pace of private land conservation in the country and, ultimately, the permanent or long-term

protection of at least 55 million acres of natural places and the sequestration of at least 70 million metric tons of carbon by 2030.” 

“The Race for Nature” consists of two phases: 

An immediate rescue phase: In 2020 Congress should pass legislation increasing funding for existing federal conservation easement programs, speeding access to easements, and piloting new emergency conservation easement programs. A recovery phase: Through the 2023 Farm Bill and other legislation, Congress should enact a “long-term expansion and improvement of the nation’s conservation easement programs.” This would include “reforms that: further simplify and accelerate the pace of implementation of conservation easement programs; establish clear and ambitious goals for nature conservation and carbon sequestration; require federal agencies to develop a cohesive and science-based strategy for achieving these nature conservation and climate change goals; and provide sustained and robust funding to implement this national private land conservation strategy.” 

There are additional details for each phase outlined in the report, including a specific timeline for actions in the rescue phase and elements to address in the recovery phase. Importantly, “The Race for Nature” and the prior CAP reports all clearly state plans must “also yield a more equitable distribution of nature’s benefits across all communities, including communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities. Federal conservation easement dollars should be purposefully directed to communities that are being disproportionately affected by nature loss, pollution, and the impacts of climate change.” 

It’s well worth reading all three reports in the CAP series: 

Each of these resonates with themes and strategies the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership embraces and can benefit from. 

Here’s a closing thought for the week: 

“Yet the main barrier to achieving a 30×30 goal in the United States is not a lack of science, a dearth of scientists, or even a failure to communicate science to the broader public; it is in mobilizing political action to match the urgency of the nature crisis. America’s conservation leaders, community leaders, policymakers, and scientists need to encourage and participate in a national conversation about what role nature should play in society, how to share nature’s benefits more equally across all communities, and how to better conserve the country’s natural systems for the benefit of everyone.” 

“The Green Squeeze” Center for American Progress, 2019 

Lightning Update is a regular communication of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions of the Partnership or member organizations.
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Virginia Outdoors Foundation
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