Time to Understand the “30 X 30” Strategy

by Dan Sealy

“30 by 30 is about setting a goal and bringing people together on conservation to conserve lands for future generations — a bipartisan idea that is very popular with the American people.” — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland

The concept has deep roots in  biologist E.O. Wilson’s philosophy of protecting half the earth, and two United Nation reports promoting a global strategy of protecting 30 percent of lands and oceans by the year 2030. Fifty nations have endorsed those recommendations. In the US this philosophy has been endorsed by most of the western states, introduced in the US Congress and most recently, resulted in recommendations made by President Biden. 

What the title “30 X 30” lacks in inspiration, it makes up for in ambition.  According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. is currently conserving around 26 percent of its coastal waters but only about 12 percent of its land in a largely natural state.

President Biden’s efforts started in the first month of his term with Executive Order 14008 which launched a committee to make recommendations including 30 X 30 policies. Included in these recommendations are programs aimed at increasing public support for conservation and stewardship and local partnerships:

  • Conserving and restoring large, intact landscapes and wildlife corridors;
  • Implementing land conservation strategies that contribute to climate solutions;
  • Supporting the conservation and stewardship vision and priorities of Tribal Nations;
  • Conserving more open lands and parks near communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities;
  • Increasing access to outdoor recreation;
  • Incentivizing and rewarding the voluntary conservation efforts of fishers, ranchers, farmers, and forest owners;
  • Creating jobs by investing in restoration and resilience projects and initiatives, including the Civilian Climate Corps.

(read the Executive Order here: Federal Register :: Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad ) https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/02/01/2021-02177/tackling-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad


In addition to those goals, the Biden-Harris administration has already put into action:


  • Expansion of the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program with a goal of enrolling 4 million acres and capturing 3.6 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent;
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed expansion of hunting and sport fishing opportunities for game species;
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced tripling the size of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary; 
  •  The National Park Service budgeted $150 million for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program, which helps build parks in underserved communities;
  • NOAA with the State of Connecticut is creating a living classroom for education, research, and recreation by designating the new National Estuarine Research Reserve in Long Island Sound. 

The “power of the purse” is held by Congress, not the President. In 2018, then Congresswoman Haaland (D-NM) and now-retired Senator Udall (D-AZ) introduced resolutions based on 30 X 30 concepts. The legislation aimed to define a national policy that future legislation could build upon to implement specific actions. Rep. Haaland introduced House Resolution 835 with 43 cosponsors including Reps Huffman and Thompson (both D-CA). Senate Resolution 372 introduced by Sen. Udall, was supported by over 180 conservation organizations and businesses including the California Native Plant Society, California Wilderness Coalition, Californians for Western Wilderness, Friends of the Lost Coast, Environmental Protection Information Center and Surfrider Foundation as well as national groups such as the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth,  Ocean Conservancy  and the Center for Biological Diversity. Those bills included provisions for additional wilderness designations, new national monuments, protection of wildlife corridors and reforestation projects. 

The bills aimed to show Congressional support for the policies but did not include funding, which would have sent them to the black hole of the Appropriation Committee. Regardless, both languished without adoption in a divided Congress.  

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order directing state agencies to catalogue, study and protect the state’s diversity of wildlife species. The order also directs those agencies to develop nature-based solutions to address climate change and carbon sequestration, create wildlife habitat, and benefit all Californians, including those living in disadvantaged communities. The Governor’s proposed budget included:

  • $220m to restore the Salton Sea and mitigate the health effects of windblown dust to nearby communities;
  • $100m for parks in local communities; 
  • $200m for green space in urban areas;
  • $65m for K-12 state parks education;
  • $100m towards deferred maintenance in state parks;
  • State parks passes for all California 4th graders and their families for a year.

“Audubon applauds the Governor’s leadership in setting an ambitious environmental agenda and proposing a bold state budget to meet those goals,” said Sarah Rose, Executive Director of Audubon California. “California cannot meet its carbon sequestration and climate adaptation goals without investing in climate-smart strategies on working lands,” echoed Meghan Hertel, Director of Land and Water Conservation at Audubon California. “Programs like Audubon Conservation Ranching are developing new methods for ranchers to continue their operations while increasing carbon sequestration in rangeland soils, improving diversity of native plants, and providing habitat for imperiled grassland birds and other species.”

While globally 30 X 30 is beginning to take hold, domestically the policy appears to be more aspirational due to a politically divided citizenship and governments. Though some actions would not result in “premier” biodiversity and carbon sequestration, any effort should help to reach this bold goal. Though wilderness is generally considered the most protective use of large landscapes, urban parks can be surprising reservoirs of biodiversity. In the San Francisco Bay Area, “Over half of the bird species of North America and nearly one third of California’s plant species are found within (the 82,791 acres of) Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Of those, 37 are listed as federally threatened or endangered” according to the National Park Service.  The proposed policies even attempt to improve biodiversity of private lands that may be farms or ranches but are being developed into new housing and business centers. 

Hopefully state, national and international communities will embrace the 30 X 30 concept so that implementation can be funded along a focused and sustained path.

Listen to a lively discussion of the 30 X 30 policies with Jen Savage, Surfrider Foundation California Policy Coordinator, Scott Greacen, Conservation Director, Friends of the Eel River, and Tom Wheeler, Executive Director, Environmental Protection Information Center during the May 29 EcoNews Report: It Sounds Great on Paper: The 30×30 Movement. This and other EcoNews Report episodes can be found at yournec.org/econews-report/

Learn more:

E.O Wilson’s “Half-Earth” philosophy: E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation (eowilsonfoundation.org)

Basics:  THE ROAD TO 30  

Video: Why America must protect 30×30 (w/ Sen. Tom Udall, Dr. Enric Sala) – YouTube