America the Beautiful initiative requires all hands on deck

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Last fall, in anticipation of the incoming administration, I wrote about the importance of including the Department of the Interior (DOI) in President Biden’s “Build Back Better” approach to leading America. I encouraged the president and his team to expand protections for public lands and waters, in efforts to combat climate change, energize the economy and serve American families. 

I’m proud to see this administration tackling these challenges during the first year in office, with a pause on an antiquated oil and gas leasing program and, most recently, with the release of the “America the Beautiful” initiative.

This initiative recommends a 10-year campaign to restore our nation’s land and waterways, address the inequities in access to nature as well as the intersection of climate change and the outdoors, and calls for locally-led conservation efforts to put the U.S. on a path to reach Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s “30 by 30” conservation goal. It’s a fresh approach built off past bipartisan successes like the Great American Outdoors Act, the Crown of the Continent, or Prairie Potholes — all efforts built on the principles of cooperation and inclusion, all efforts that have achieved staggering success in serving families, businesses and public lands.

Developed with the recommendations of tribal leaders, hunters, anglers, business owners, veterans and military families, and nature lovers alike, “America the Beautiful” shows a commitment to nationwide yet locally-led initiatives that will serve thousands of communities for generations to come. It includes efforts to conserve public lands, but it also calls for voluntary private land stewardship, respecting both the rights of landowners and the responsibilities of government agencies. It’s science-based, relying on the expertise of geologists and biologists as well as the extensive tribal knowledge — not political maneuvering by corporations and energy companies. It’s comprehensive, and, yes, ambitious — but what better embodies the American spirit than bold and ambitious plans?

More than that, the plan not only seeks to improve the health of our land and the people who depend on it, but it improves the financial health of local and regional economies from coast to coast. In fact, conserving our natural resources in a way that supports and encourages job growth and economic benefits is a principle of the plan. It’s not a choice between jobs and recreation — protecting our natural resources accomplishes both. Now it’s on Congress to back these bold initiatives.

This initiative serves all Americans. In particular, it serves the veteran and military communities of our nation, communities with a longstanding commitment to conservation. In this regard, I am grateful to have Haaland at the helm of the DOI. She brings a rich Indigenous perspective of stewardship to the post — for our lands, waters, wildlife and the people who rely on a healthy Earth. She grew up in an honored military family; her father was a combat Marine who was awarded the Silver Star, and her mother is a Navy veteran.

As a veteran, I am proud to support Haaland and Biden in proposing this ambitious plan and urge others to do the same. We’ll need all hands on deck to turn this vision into reality.

Major General (Ret.) Paul D. Eaton served more than 30 years in the U.S. Army and is now a senior advisor to the Vet Voice Foundation, which mobilizes veterans to become leaders in our nation’s democracy through participation in the civic process. Follow him on Twitter @PaulDEaton52.

Tags 30 by 30 initiative Biden climate policy Climate change Conservation Deb Haaland Great American Outdoors Act Joe Biden land conservation public lands Water conservation

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