A Critical 21st Century Role for Public Land Management: Conserving 30% of the Nation’s Lands and Waters Beyond 2030
54 Arizona State Law Journal, Forthcoming (2023)
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2022-57
74 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2022 Last revised: 3 May 2023
Date Written: September 8, 2022
The international goal of conserving 30 percent of the world’s lands and water to stave off the ravages of climate change and widespread species extinctions has come to the United States. The Biden Administration’s 30 by 30 Initiative commits the nation to placing 30 percent of its lands and waters in some kind of protected status by 2030. Because a substantial portion of the nation’s land base is owned by the federal government, 30 by 30 goals will be beyond reach if conservation commitments do not cover federal lands and resources. And because nearly 70 percent of the federal lands are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, those two agencies must take the lead.
Existing law requires these two agencies to manage for “multiple use,” including energy development, timber, recreation, wildlife, and watersheds, but also provides them with ample authority to prioritize conservation on the public lands. However, much of this authority has been neglected or underutilized to date. In this Article, we explore the conservation tools that the National Forest Management Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act make available to the two agencies that are fully consistent with the multiple use mandate to which they must conform. We also address potential conflicts between renewable energy projects that will speed the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources, on one hand, and the preservation of well-functioning ecosystems, on the other. We urge the agencies to use their planning processes to deploy available statutory authority to promote conservation. Among our recommendations is a concerted focus on protecting the ill-defined and somewhat neglected watershed resource as a coordinating device for 30 by 30 conservation efforts.
Keywords: executive order, agency discretion, planning, climate, public lands, ecosystem, conservation, biodiversity
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