On May 6, 2021, the Biden administration launched its “America the Beautiful” initiative, a campaign to “conserve and restore” 30 perecent of our country’s lands and waters. Like any good campaign, they plan to have a way to measure progress, and that’s where the proposed American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas (Atlas) comes in. The Atlas will be a tool that provides information for Americans about the lands and waters that are conserved or restored.
Thursday was the first of several listening sessions that are part of a public comment period on the initiative. Specifically, the administration is asking for feedback about the Atlas and how it can serve as a useful tool for the public. Below is the public comment that I delivered on this important issue.
My name is Ellen Montgomery and I’m the public lands campaign director for Environment America. We work to promote environmental values, such as clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean energy to power our lives.
Every minute, two football fields worth of the country’s natural lands are lost. We have work to do to achieve 30% by 2030. We need more and bigger wildlife refuges, parks and monuments. And we must manage as many public lands as possible under the U.S. Geological Survey’s GAP codes 1 and 2 criteria, which means managing for biodiversity. The Atlas should show which land is Gap 1 and Gap 2.
We must create stronger protections for land that is already public and be able to measure which lands with potential to be more protected have been given stronger safeguards. Just a few examples of stronger safeguards could be:
Protecting the older and mature trees in our federal forests that are so important for habitat and absorbing carbon
Adding land currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management to existing wildlife refuges to create more habitat for the species they protect
Converting national recreation areas like the Delaware Water Gap to National Parks.
Protecting the lands around us speaks to our values, that we want beauty and richness in our lives. If we act now and act quickly, we can have a world with more wolves and bears, more songbirds, more big trees and more sandy beaches. We need more nature.