How Biden Could Reach 30 x 30

Protecting the Brooks Range of Alaska by giving some kind of permanent protection to the National  Petroleum Reserve. Photo George Wuerthner 

The Center for American Progress (CAP) recently published a report on how President Biden could reach his goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s land and water by 2030. It is an ambitious goal that Biden has yet to begin to achieve.

He has undone some of the egregious anti-conservation measures of the Trump administration by reinstating the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Bears Ears National Monument, and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments in Utah.

Even being generous in how one interprets protected lands and waters, about 13% of the American landscape and 12% of the sea are under some protected status. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) describes the levels of protection. The highest level is level I, the Strict Nature Reserves & Wilderness Areas, and level II, the National Parks.

Even in wilderness and parks, livestock grazing is sometimes permitted.

And Biden is willing to accept “working lands” as part of the 30% even though there is no evidence that they will meet the long-term preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity. However, if protected by strict conservation easements or other regulations, private lands, as well as tribal land, could contribute to the final goal.

Since most of the federal land is in the West and Alaska, adequate ecosystem representation will require the acquisition of more private land by the federal government in the mid-west and eastern US, as well as other measures to protect biodiversity.

Oak woodland in Golden Gate National Recreation Area just across the Bay from San Francisco. Photo George Wuerthner. We need more natural areas like Golden Gate NRA accessible to urban and rural populations

Further complicating Biden’s goal is that access to natural areas, which science has shown has many beneficial effects on humans, is unequal. Poor neighborhoods and poverty, in general, limit people’s ability to find a patch of wild nature. So in the interest of social justice, Biden can and should expand opportunities for all citizens to experience the natural world, not just the wealthy and well-connected.

However, protecting natural areas has benefits that go beyond humans. Many of these lands and waters are the home of thousands of species whose future is uncertain as humans have occupied and converted more and more of the globe. Protecting lands for the voiceless is an act of ecosystem justice. As Dr. Seuss’s Lorax said, “I speak for the trees.”

Preservation of ecosystem function, biodiversity, evolutionary influences, and species survival should be the primary goal of the 30 x 30 proposal.

Protected areas like wilderness and parks are the gold standard for conservation and should make up a significant proportion of Biden’s proposal. The problem is that only Congress can designate wilderness and create national parks.

With the change in the House to Republican control, it is doubtful that few conservation measures will come out of Congress.

To reach the 30 percent goal, approximately a half billion acres would need to be given permanent preservation with Level 1 and Level 11 status. This is quite a challenge.

So the CAP came up with a list of ways Biden could expand protected landscapes and water through executive order.

One of the most effective ways Biden could expand protected landscapes is by establishing new national monuments through the Antiquities Act. The president can designate a national monument without Congressional permission. Many presidents have used this ability to preserve much of America’s natural landscapes. For instance, Teddy Roosevelt created 18, Bill Clinton 22, Franklin Roosevelt 30, and Barrack Obama designated 39.

Many of these national monuments are later “upgraded” to federal park status by Congress, making their protection as permanent as any Congressional Act. Some of our most famous national parks were created by Presidential decree, including Acadia, Arches, Zion, Death Valley, Olympic, Grand Teton, Katmai, and Wrangell-St. Elias, among others.

With the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) passage, new national monuments larger than 5,000 acres were prohibited in Alaska. However, it does not apply to marine areas, so Biden could use his authority to create new marine national monuments in Alaska.

Some of these proposals move federal public lands toward 30×30 but do not qualify as fully protected lands. In my mind, to quality for 30×30, an area must be dedicated to preserving biological diversity But moving federal land, and water protection in the right direction would be a good start.

The Cap Report has eight recommendations:

  1. Designate new national monuments.
  2. Designate national marine sanctuaries.
  3. Conserve high-value Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands through rulemaking and planning.
  4. Issue a national forest climate rule and conserve old forests across public lands.
  5. Create and expand national wildlife refuges.
  6. “Withdraw” sensitive and sacred lands from future drilling and mining.
  7. Restore protections and pursue Indigenous-led conservation opportunities for BLM lands in Alaska.
  8. Harness new funding for conservation

I would add a few extra things to the list. I have no illusions that my proposals would all be enacted or otherwise given consideration, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Some of these might occur if the suggestions in the CAP proposal were enacted, but it is good to throw out ideas here. The CAP document lists other conservation proposals that are worthy of support.

North Fork Smith River, Oregon Coast Range. Photo George Wuerthner 

  1. Expand the Wild and Scenic Rivers system by enacting Wild and Scenic proposals in Oregon and Montana.Montana’s Smith River would be protected under the Headwaters Protection Act. Photo George Wuerthner 


  1. Protect as national monuments all the existing proposed wilderness legislation, including Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) and America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, as well as 15 other wilderness bills, introduced into Congress with “wilderness” protections as part of the monument declaration.

    Enact major wilderness proposals like Red Rocks Wilderness Act of Utah. Photo George Wuerthner 

  2. Make a mineral withdrawal on all federal lands.

Wind Farm in California desert. Photo George Wuerthner 

  1. Prohibit any new solar and wind farms in California and other desert lands.

The Lost River Range could become part of a larger Crater of the Moon NM. Photo George Wuerthner

  1. Expand the Craters of the Moon NM to encompass other parts of southern Idaho.

Protect the  National Pretreleom Reserve from oil development and for the wildlife like the western Arctic Caribou herd. Photo George Wuerthner

6.. Prohibit oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve and make the entire area a new national biological preserve or conservation area with solid protections against development. Create a Bristol Bay National Marine Monument to protect the world’s best salmon fisheries.

  1. Ponderosa Pine in Blue Range of New Mexico–part of the Greater Gila Ecosystem. Photo George Wuerthner
  2. Create a Greater Gila National Monument in New Mexico.

White Mountains of New Hampshire, a proposed new national park or monument. Photo George Wuerthner

  1. Expand protection of the Maine Woods through the acquisition of timber lands and expansion of the Katahdin Woods and Waters NM and create a White Mountain National Park  or national monument in New Hampshire.


Mandate a Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement for all federal lands. Photo George Wuerthner 

  1. Enact Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement on all federal lands and permanently close any existing vacant allotments.


11.. Enact the Rewilding the West Reserve proposal.

Make all national forests into carbon reserves with a probition on commercial logging. Photo George Wuerthner 

12.. Make all national forests a carbon reserve and prohibit commercial and post-fire logging.


  1. Create a Douglas Fir National Monument on the western slopes of the Cascades in Oregon.

Missouri River Breaks, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

  1. Create a Northern Great Plains National Monument combining BLM, the CMR NWR, Missouri River Breaks and adjacent donated private lands (American Prairie Preserve) and reintroduce wild bison from Yellowstone National Park as a Buffalo Commons.

Oregon Buttes, Red Desert, Wyoming. Photo George Wuerthner 

  1. Protect the Red Desert of Wyoming with creation of a new national wildlife refuge.


  1. Protect the Greater Hart Sheldon area of Nevada and Oregon as a Sage Grouse national monument.

Upper Green River, Wyoming. Photo George Wuerthner 

  1. Create an Upper Green River Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming.

    Unita Mountains, Utah. Photo George Wuerthner 

  2. Enact the Yellowstone to Uinta Corridor Intiative.
  3. Give permanent protection to all roadless areas.


  1. Chris Zinda Avatar
    Chris Zinda

    Biden in his 30×30 plan expressly addressed the semantics of both conservation and preservation- rejecting preservation.

    GW cannot seem to make that distinction, still conflating throughout this editorial, only saying “Preservation of ecosystem function, biodiversity, evolutionary influences, and species survival should be the primary goal of the 30 x 30 proposal.” Yes it should. But, it will never be unless people like GW start REALLY advocating for preservation, a first step dropping the conservationist moniker.

    At least Biden was honest about his land ethic.

    1. Ron Kozan Avatar
      Ron Kozan

      You can’t expect GW or most everyone else posting here to understand the difference. Most of them think they are conservationist.

      Conservationsit: are hunters, trappers, ranchers, ect

      Preservationist: don’t believe in sustainable harvest

      Don’t get me started on honesty and ethics part.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        I know that many folks here have thought a lot about this, including me.

        It is easy to disagree. To you Ron, and the many critics you will have try to keep it information, not personal. editor

        1. Ron Kozan Avatar
          Ron Kozan

          duly noted

      2. Chris Zinda Avatar
        Chris Zinda

        Ron, I started that part long ago.

        Beyond the ethical importance of semantic and use, you are correct: conservation(ist) is a very broad term, used by everyone from Cliven Bundy to you to GW. It’s almost meaningless other than the conflating by some with preservation(ist).

        Whereas, preservation(ist), by definition, a very narrow term and never confuses, obfuscates or conflates.

  2. Ol' Tom Avatar
    Ol’ Tom

    For starters, Biden has no idea whatsoever what is in the 30-30 proposal (think intern) and if he has a land ethic somewhere in his Maryland basement, we have no idea whatsoever what it is.

    On the forestry side, I’ve never heard George or anyone else enthuse about Gifford Pinchot, much less ever describe ‘get the cut out’ as conservation. Thinning for forest health? That’s about remaining trees reaching ‘maturity’ faster. George stands in opposition to the prescribed burn industry but then what informed person isn’t.

    The fact is, logging is 100% driven by consumption. So preservation of old growth and letting burned snags stand, like George so often calls for, arguably just shifts the same cut to private land and rogue countries like Canada.

    Not one less 2×4 or newspaper ad insert is sold unless the price goes higher (demand curve). Which it will if public land supply is curtailed. A Sunday NY Times alone requires a 3000 acre annual clearcut to make the newsprint. George reads it on his phone, do you?

    The admin has little appetite for more inflation. Thus 30-30 has zero prospects for cutting timber supply. If anything, they will cut more to stimulate demand. Trees in the West can’t combat climate change because we’ve already locked in stand replacement fire.

    On the mining side, we’d be better off without the coal mines and 30-30 could count the remediation. Ditto methane remediation in the San Juan Basin.

    Stopping low grade ore give-away copper leases isn’t inflationary because of a twenty-year supply in existing slash heaps ready to be more efficiently leached by existing technology.

    George is on record opposing both Oak Flats and Santa Rita copper. The acreage is low but impacts are unbelievable.

    He hasn’t taken a public stance on melting down pennies. 30-30 could take advantage of inflation by rounding up our worthless coinage for their copper, zinc and nickel.

    Bolivia is sitting on 39 million metric tons of lithium just at Salar de Uyuni so George is on solid preservation ground opposing pumping out Dead Horse Point.

    On grazing side, George has long supported fair market buyouts from willing sellers and market-based solutions such as ending the many subsidies and buying land outright instead of temporary conservation easements.

    Maybe a more radical preservationist would call for immediate lease cancellation, mandatory grassland and stream remediation, slaughter of feral cattle and condemnation of base ranches but that is wholly lacking in pragmatic considerations.

    For 30-30, the real opportunities for corridor connectivity, vast undisturbed acreage and carbon storage lie with getting rid of public land grazing. We already own the land and management costs would be minimal. No people of color would be affected. Gay rodeo in Lakeview could continue as usual; rodeos have nothing to do with ranching.

  3. Mike Higgins Avatar
    Mike Higgins

    Thanks for this all-encompassing update and proposal George! And thanks for your determination and steadfast dedication to protecting our planet.

    1. Rick Meis Avatar
      Rick Meis

      Thanks, Mike, for your words of support for George’s great work to forward honest conservation. I could not have said it better.

  4. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
    Jeff Hoffman

    I support all of these proposals, but I think we need a great reduction in human population and consumption in order to make this or anything like it happen. When push comes to shove, even the most protected areas will be ruined in order to provide needless crap for the massive hoards. These reductions will take a very long time in order to be adequate, but it’s the only way to go.

  5. Kevin Matthews Avatar

    End commercial livestock grazing across the BLM “Herd Management Areas” (HMAs) and upgrade them into true biodiversity sanctuaries for our native wild horses, as thr 1971 WFRHB Act intended.


  6. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    The impression I have is that Biden is inordinately concerned with ranching. He made some comment during the State of the Union address about meat packing plants, which I thought was an odd thing to say. And we have the previously retired grazing allotments being re-opened to ranching?

    It’s also why he won’t do a thing about protecting wolves, along with his crony politics appointments to the Interior:

    I really don’t think there’s much hope with either party as time goes on, but as you say, if you don’t ask (or try) you don’t get.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      Obama removed wolf protections in the west in exchange for rancher & farmer support for Jon Tester in Montana. I’m sure that Biden is just extending that. These guys care far more about getting elected and reelected than they do about the environment. There is no hope for anything substantially good from our corrupt and unrepresentative electoral process without several major reforms, and even then it’s highly questionable because most people wouldn’t support what’s needed anyway once they learn that they’d have to make some sacrifices. If you showed the average American the great harms done by cattle grazing, then asked them if they would give up beef in order to stop these harms, what do you think they’d say?

      1. Ron Kozan Avatar
        Ron Kozan

        Say nothing about the science that proved the wolf population had met recovery goals several years before.
        Say nothing about the fact western Montana and northern Idaho now have wolf population densities greater than Yellowstone.

        Tester did what the Montana people wanted, Obama just followed the science in the ESA.

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          No, I thought Obama was trying to change the ESA such as ‘redefining’ definition of range to make it more appealing and convenient to not only ranchers but to according to people’s needs in general?

          Too conciliatory and I don’t know if science was involved.

          1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
            Jeff Hoffman

            Correct, it had nothing to do with science. It was politics, pure & simple.

            1. Ron Kozan Avatar
              Ron Kozan

              Based on what facts, jeff?
              ESA deemed the population recovered, a population that is still growing.

              Meanwhile the protected Yellowstone population has collapsed from their peak. The greatest killer of Yellowstone wolves…..other wolves.

              1. Ed Loosli Avatar
                Ed Loosli

                The FACT that you state that the greatest killer Yellowstone wolves is other wolves, points out a very important scientific principle… That principle is that predators like mt. lions, grizzly bears, coyotes, and WOLVES self regulate their population numbers – and there is absolutely no scientific justification for humans killing them to “keep their numbers in check”.

                1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
                  Jeff Hoffman

                  Humans should only kill what they eat, and the only animals they eat should be natural prey animals. Humans have no business killing predators, totally immoral.

                2. Ron Kozan Avatar
                  Ron Kozan

                  Wolves, lions, bears all evolved being hunter by humans, just as elk evolved being hunted by wolves and humans. One of the long standing arguments made by wolf advocates, claiming elk need to be hunted.

                  What you advocate for is what landed Micheal Vick in jail. Forcing canines into fighting to the death for your personal pleasure. Congratulations

                3. Ron Kozan Avatar
                  Ron Kozan

                  The wolf advocates argue that wolves don’t have to eat what they kill to benefit the ecosystem. Those dead animals they leave feed scavenger and the soil. I know for a fact eagles love to eat a dead wolf carcass
                  Thanks again for another opinion.

          2. Ron Kozan Avatar
            Ron Kozan

            USFWS deemed the wolf population recovered in 2002. The next 3 years the population met recovery goals under the ESA. Delisting finally happened in march 2008. They were delisted and relisted because of court cases several times until Tester was able to pass his rider ending such lawsuits. The rider was attached to a must pass budget bill in 2011.
            USFWS and the ESA were driven by science based facts. Today’s population of wolves in three states prove the decision was driven by science. Feel free to use any facts you have to defend your beliefs.

            1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
              Jeff Hoffman

              “Feel free to use any facts you have to defend your beliefs.”

              Before the colonizers got here, there were millions of wolves in what is now the U.S. Wolf populations are not “recovered” until they reach those numbers. Calling wolf populations “recovered” was a political decision, not a scientific one or even a decision based on any reality.

              1. Ron Kozan Avatar
                Ron Kozan

                Thanks for the laugh…any reality… that was funny.

                What documentation do you have for the population claim of millions of wolves?

                Yellowstone has a densilty of 50 wolves per million acres. The math doesn’t work, not even close.

                You do know the first nations people spent a lot of time killing wolves.

  7. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Sorry to be off topic, but can you believe this? I thought ‘leaving the pack and becoming a pack leader’ was normal wolf behavior?:

    There’s also something going on with the USDA changing the amount of money ranchers get for lost cattle re Mexican wolves.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner