Over the past few months the new administration has started to spell out its promised conservation plan. First, with President Biden’s Executive Order 14008 and then with last week’s release of the more detailed Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful report. The plan embodied in these releases has been labeled “30-30” because of the goal of conserving 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.
We would like to share our thoughts on the 30-30 plan and its implementation, through the lens of The Heron Project’s focused objectives. We are concerned with the conservation of streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands, with an equal emphasis on connecting with these waters through the non-mechanized activities of paddling, wading activities like fishing and wildfowl hunting, and streamside camping.
FIRST, LET’S LOOK AT SOME OF THE SPECIFICS OF THE RELEASES:
President Biden issued his conservation Executive Order in the first week of his administration. This 30-30 goal was first presented in this Order. While much of the discussion (and the title of the Executive Order) focused on the impact of climate change, the broader goal of “conservation” ran throughout. Some of the more specific directions of the Executive Order reflect that conservation focus. The Executive Order defined a diverse group of stakeholders to be included in the development of a conservation strategy, including state, local and tribal officials, agricultural and forest landowners, fisherman, ranchers, conservation groups, and farmers, among “other stakeholders.“ Another theme of the Executive Order – one that was clearly seen as consistent with “conservation” – was access to outdoor recreation. We endorse the joint prioritization of conservation and access .
The promise continued in the America the Beautiful report. The report started with brief supporting statements from a wide range of “stakeholders” identified in the Executive Order. In addition to climate solutions, these statements reflected broad embrace of conservation and access.
The report identified 8 broad principles, one of which we would like to quote completely:
The conservation and restoration of natural places in America should yield meaningful benefits in the lives of all Americans, and these benefits should be equitably distributed. The conservation value of a particular place should not be measured solely in biological terms, but also by its capacity to purified drinking water, to cool the air for a nearby neighborhood, to provide a safe outdoor escape for a community that is park-deprived, to help America prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change, or to unlock access for outdoor recreation, hunting, angling, and beyond.REPORT: CONSERVING AND RESTORING AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL 2021
Centering this effort on people also means recognizing the oversized contributions that farmers, ranchers, forest owners, fishers, hunters, rural communities, and tribal nations already make and safeguarding wildlife in open spaces for the benefit of the rest of the country, and therefore recognizing and encouraging these remarkable efforts.
The important message here is that conservation will involve a broad set of stakeholders, access to the conserved places is important, and connection through active engagement – fishing, hunting, wading and paddling – goes hand in hand with conservation and access.
The America the Beautiful Report continued with a series of recommendations, and once again, there is one that we would like to quote completely.
Additional conservation can and should improve access for hunting, fishing, hiking, boating, and other forms of outdoor recreation. Improved access to public lands and waters – in an equitable, well-managed and sustainable manner, can broaden and deepen connections to nature and its benefits, and encourage the next generation of outdoor stewards. Hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts have not only played a positive role in stewarding our nation’s lands, waters, and wildlife, but they also generate significant economic benefits to local communities.REPORT: CONSERVING AND RESTORING AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL 2021
We agree, and we look forward to helping this happen.
Here are a few more specific thoughts that relate to Great Blue Heron’s objectives. These are our own, but we hope elements will find their way into the implementation of the 30-30 plan principles.
The broadest access is the simplest access. Expensive boats and gear are a deterrent to participation, especially for urban participants. A simple canoe boat launch, ideally with availability to get rental equipment, means more access for more people.
The closest access is the best access. It may not be practical to have wading and paddling opportunities in every urban area, but they can be nearby – ideally within reach of public transportation or ride sharing.
Getting in the water is important. Chasing crawdads, netting minnows, panning for gold. We question every “no wading” sign. Sometimes that might be necessary, but wading opportunities can be designed into public access areas.
Permits and fees are deterrents. These costs and benefits must be freshly assessed. Public waters that require payment of fees and permits for use (that are sometimes cumbersome to obtain) will deter use. This is particularly the case with paddling activities like canoeing and kayaking. In many cases fees for launching a kayak are as high as fees for launching a power boat.
We think that paddling should always be free – and our PaddleFree initiative will push that concept. Whatever income is are generated by fees for canoes and kayaks (net of the cost of collecting these fees from participants often least able to afford them) is outweighed by the deterrent effect. We have real questions about some other activity license fees – even fishing license fees – but that is a topic for another time.
Rural economies must thrive. The infrastructure that rural communities provide is critical to outdoor recreation. Any rift between urban outdoor users and the rural outdoor stewards must be eliminated and each must see the other as a valued and important partner in any conservation effort.
We are all in this together. Fishers and non-fishers, hunters and non-hunters, they must see each other as just slightly different participants in the same overall endeavor – engaging with nature. The connection between them should be strong, and any message that they are opponents is motivated by something other than a genuine desire to conserve and protect our natural resources.
We’re not sure how to measure 30%. But if by 2030 there are 30% more places to launch a kayak within an hour of where you live or 30% more places to wade into a stream that you can get to by public transportation, or 30% more places to set up camp by a stream, we will be very, very happy. And a lot of the “next generation of outdoor stewards” will be too.