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County considers opposing federal conservation plan

The 30x30 plan aims to set aside more land and water for conservation and species preservation, which could include expanding or adding refuges such as Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge just east of Roswell. (Submitted Photo)

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Biden Administration wants to preserve 30% of public lands and waters by 2030

Chaves County officials are being asked to consider opposing the Biden Administration’s plans to conserve 30% of public lands and 30% of public waters on a national basis by 2030.

The “30 x 30 plan” came to the federal government stage by legislation introduced into both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate by New Mexico congressional representatives during the last legislative session. Now it has been adopted by the Biden Administration as one of its climate change and environmental protection priorities.

According to Section 216 of Executive Order 14008 signed Jan. 27, the Interior Department cabinet secretary is expected to work with other cabinet secretaries with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce, as well as with the heads of pertinent agencies, to develop a report within 90 days for the newly formed National Climate Task Force. The report is expected to outline how the conservation of lands and waters will occur over the next 10 years.

The topic was discussed at a Thursday meeting of the Chaves County Land Council, a group of appointed members representing agriculture, recreation and the oil and gas industry who serve as an advisory group to the Chaves County Board of Commissioners.

County staff encouraged the council members to share their thoughts about the 30×30 plan with them or county commissioners. They were provided materials concerning a multi-state campaign to “Fight the 30×30 Land Grab.”

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Leading the campaign is a property rights educational nonprofit, American Stewards of Liberty, based in Georgetown, Texas. A phone call seeking information was not returned by press time.

Representatives of the Pecos District Office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management told council members that little information is available to them at this point about the conservation plan. The office owns and manages federal public lands in Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties, which could become part of conservation projects.

“We haven’t gotten any guidance to come down. We don’t know how they would interpret things or how they would define things or what the priorities (are),” said District Manager Jim Stovall. “What I did read in some of the stuff is that it is important to work locally, so I think, once we hear anything, we will get with you all. It is hard for us just to speculate on what maybe that 30×30 plan is.”

According to material provided to the county by American Stewards, the group considers the 30×30 policy “an unconstitutional policy shift, moving us from a nation founded on private property principles to one controlled by the administrative state.”

A “Guide to Fight the 30×30 Land Grab” provided by American Stewards characterized the initiative as one favored by political progressives and stated that no scientific evidence exists to support the idea that setting aside 30% of land and water will maintain biodiversity of vegetation and wildlife or help with climate change goals.

The group provided a draft of a resolution that could be signed by county commissions and forwarded to federal and state departments. That document states that designating lands as wilderness makes them “highly susceptible to wildland wildfires, insect infestation and disease, all of which degrades the natural and human environment.”

The suggested resolution also states that the 30×30 plans would involve the conservation of about 680 million acres of land — most likely in 11 Western states and Alaska — and would harm businesses and citizens that “depend on industries that utilize federal lands and their resources, including the forest products industry, livestock grazing, oil and gas exploration and production, mining and mineral development, recreational industries, hunting and other outdoor recreation.”

The materials also suggest that elected officials could indicate that they support reasonable efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but oppose setting aside large tracts of lands, especially if it is not done through the planning processes outlined by federal laws that require public review and input and coordination with county governments.

A resolution opposing the 30×30 initiative already has been passed by Garfield County in Colorado, according to American Stewards and an online news site.

The 30×30 plan has been supported by several national environmental groups and the Center for American Progress, with former Clinton and Obama Administration official John Podesta as its chair. A U.S. Senate resolution supporting the 30×30 concept was introduced by former New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall in November 2019, while U.S. Rep Deb Haaland of New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District introduced a similar measure into the House in February 2020. Haaland is Biden’s nominee to head the Interior Department.

According to the House resolution favored by Haaland, 12% of U.S. lands and 26% of U.S. waters are preserved now. The resolution included other environment-related goals and stated the intent would be to protect private property rights and work with tribal, state and local governments and private landowners.

Tyler Cherry, a press secretary with the Interior Department, responded to a question about the plan by referring to a fact sheet.

That stated, in part, “Interior will undertake the process with broad engagement, including agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, outdoor enthusiasts, sovereign tribal nations, states, territories, local officials, and others to identify strategies that reflect the priorities of all communities.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.