The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30

The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30
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Can you hear it? The clock is ticking. To protect 30 percent of our nation’s lands and waters by 2030, as demanded by science, we urgently need extensive presidential, secretarial and congressional action.

Especially now, given the pressing need to mitigate climate change, address the biodiversity crisis, and achieve greater environmental justice, we must pursue not only locally led public land and water conservation efforts, but also nationally led ones. After all, every American has an equal ownership interest and voice in the destiny of all of our federal public lands and waters.

Many examples — including the creation of Bears Ears National Monument by President Obama and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by President Clinton — support the wisdom of conserving nationally significant areas, even if there is considerable local opposition. How strongly can local representatives oppose important national land conservation? When Clinton made the announcement about Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDrug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 Financial market transactions should not be taxed or restricted MORE (R-Utah) said it was “Like the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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In terms of size and conservation impact, the most stunning example of protecting national lands and waters, notwithstanding considerable local opposition, is the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). ANILCA protected — and still protects — over 100 million acres of extraordinary federal public lands, more than doubling the total number of acres in our beloved National Park and National Wildlife Refuge systems. ANILCA is the single largest piece of land conservation legislation enacted in the history of the United States.

In the late 1970’s, the national support for the bill that became ANILCA was extensive. Congress held field hearings in cities like Chicago, Atlanta, Denver and Seattle and heard from a broad and enthusiastic spectrum of individuals, as well as state and national organizations, expressing their strong support for ANILCA’s passage.

ANILCA, however, was extremely controversial in Alaska. When the bill was being debated in Congress, Alaska’s entire congressional delegation opposed and blocked it.

Time was of the essence. If Congress did not enact legislation by the end of 1978, the previous temporary legislative protections would expire, opening irreplaceable intact ecosystems to disposal and development. In December 1978, President Carter took decisive action by using his powers under the Antiquities Act to protect as National Monuments over 55 million acres; and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus shielded an additional 40 million acres.

As an attorney for the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska at the time, I saw the reactions this caused. Carter was burned in effigy; a National Park Service plane was torched; and at the Alaska State Fair, more people threw bottles at an image of Carter than at the Ayatollah Khomeini.

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Recognizing that Carter’s use of the Antiquities Act amounted to a check-mate, the Alaska congressional delegation ultimately agreed to pass ANILCA and Carter signed it into law in December 1980. Among other beneficiaries of the legislation were rural Alaska residents, and especially Alaska Natives, who gained subsistence hunting and fishing rights on almost all of these lands.

By 2005, when Carter came to Alaska to commemorate the 25th anniversary of ANILCA, the local testimonials in support of ANILCA were resounding. In addition to giving a moving speech in front of over 1,000 people, the former president and Mrs. Carter and I visited Kenai Fjords National Park, a national treasure, which he originally protected under the Antiquities Act. The stunningly beautiful park is located next to the city of Seward. Over 25 years previously, Seward passed a resolution vehemently opposing the creation of the park. Reflecting dramatically changed local opinions and opportunities, the city council subsequently repealed that resolution ; and ultimately, in the 1990’s, the council passed a resolution endorsing the expansion of the park — a representative, 180 degree reversal from pre-creation opposition to post-creation support.

ANILCA protected Alaska public lands for the benefit of the entire nation and all Americans, and in doing so: created or expanded 13 national parks, 15 wildlife refuges, two national forests, two national monuments, two conservation areas, 26 wild and scenic rivers, subsistence rights and 57 million acres of wilderness.

If there were a “requirement” for widespread local support at the time Carter and Congress acted, ANILCA would never have become law. As we implement 30 x 30 in the midst of a climate change and biodiversity crisis, let’s pursue — now — both nationally supported actions and locally supported actions. Tick, tick, tick.

Deborah Williams, J.D., is a lecturer at UC Santa Barbara’s Environmental Studies Department and former attorney for the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska.