Daines offers alternative to Biden’s 30×30 land plan

A group of GOP Congress members released an alternative to President Joe Biden’s 30×30 land conservation initiative on Tuesday, pushing for more attention to productive management of working lands.

“Conservation is part of our Montana way of life — we know how to be good stewards of our lands,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, wrote of the proposal. 

“I believe it’s a conservative principle to conserve,” Daines wrote. “That’s why I’m pushing a new ‘Western Conservation Principles’ initiative that uses science-based, time-tested, locally driven practices to bring about meaningful conservation outcomes, unlike President Biden’s vague 30×30 initiative.”

Daines co-authored the 9-page document with Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington. The version released on Tuesday afternoon contained 39 signatures, including House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Wyoming senators Liz Cheney and John Barrasso and Idaho senators James Risch and Mike Crapo.

The proposal came in response to an initiative in Biden’s Interior Departmentto protect 30% of the United States’ land and water by 2030. Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative anticipates a 10-year national conservation effort of collaborative, voluntary, locally led projects. Its goals include protecting natural systems, adapting to climate change, and improving access to the outdoors.

“America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have an important role to play in combating the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees, and other vegetation and sourcing sustainable bioproducts and fuels,” Biden said in the America the Beautiful announcement.

“Coastal communities have an essential role to play in mitigating climate change and strengthening resilience by protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems, such as wetlands, seagrasses, coral and oyster reefs, and mangrove and kelp forests, to protect vulnerable coastlines, sequester carbon, and support biodiversity and fisheries.”

In a video statement, Daines said Biden’s proposal lacks clear information about what lands would qualify toward his 30×30 goals. Many stakeholders, he added, fear the administration’s plan is “just a way to lock up more land,” and that he supports eliminating “frivolous lawsuits” and “conserving healthy landscapes instead of ambiguous land status.”

Several Montana-based conservation groups contacted for response to the Western caucuses’ plan said they haven’t had enough time to review it. Alliance for the Wild Rockies Executive Director Michael Garrity responded to the lawsuit challenge, noting that winning lawsuits against federal agencies was proof the challenges were well-grounded.

“President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani got his law license suspended for filing what the court found to be frivolous lawsuits,” Garrity said. “No one has ever accused us of filing a frivolous lawsuit in court, and by definition when we win, it’s not frivolous. Congress wrote these laws and included citizen enforcement provisions because there’s no police to call when these agencies do something unlawful.”

The GOP Western Conservation Principles focus on “invasive species; overgrown, diseased and infested forests; and post-wildfire restoration.” Members of the Senate and Congressional Western caucuses called for streamlining the National Environmental Policy Act to increase active forest management, better control of invasive species, reducing overpopulation of wild horses and burros on rangeland, bringing more attention to federal Superfund hazardous waste cleanup projects, encouraging visitation to national parks, improving the “checkerboard” land access that mixes federal and private land through better mapping of easements, accelerating processing of endangered species recovery, offering title transfers on federal water facilities in need of repair, removing the “D.C. knows best” limitations on conservation policies, and providing “creative financing agreements” to leverage public-private partnerships.

It specifically calls for returning management of grizzly bears and gray wolves to state wildlife agencies.

In reporting and monitoring public lands, the proposal calls for better mapping and release of data on federal mineral resources. It also seeks audits of existing federal land programs to “ensure alignment with their original mission and verify these funds are leveraged for the best rate of return on investment and going to where they are most needed.”

“We believe this objective assessment of our land is the best indicator of conservation efforts underway on all of our lands regardless of what the land is being managed for — be it wilderness, recreation, energy, grazing, timber or wildlife,” the group statement noted.

Members also called for changes to court challenges of environmental reviews, saying, “we can protect access to the courts while preventing the current abuses experienced.”