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Understanding Public Lands Protection in California–Why and How

By André Sanchez, Community Engagement and Conservation Policy Manager

If you have been following  us for the last several years, you have heard us discuss the ambitious conservation goal of protecting 30% of California’s lands and waters by 2030. Referred to as 30×30 (and pronounced 30 by 30), this state-side goal is based on the international movement to conserve at least 30% of the planet’s lands and waters by the year 2030. The movement was originally inspired by a growing community of scientists who saw the 30% threshold as the bare minimum needed to preserve biodiversity, fight climate change, and secure our own health and prosperity. Over the last several years, it has since become a goal set forth by the state of California in 2020 and the Biden administration in 2021, within the respective landscapes.

Since setting these targets,  both the state of  California and the Federal government have made progress towards this conservation effort but more needs to be done before we reach the decade mark. Thus, the state and federal government continue to work tirelessly alongside partners, like CalWild, to move this initiative forward. As of this writing, California has achieved protections for 24.41% of terrestrial lands that currently meet the “durable protections” criteria (i.e. GAP status codes 1 and 2 as applied by the U.S. Geological Survey and defined in the CNRA Pathways report). With this in mind, we present to you this 30×30 Public Lands Report (primer) to outline ways that we can achieve 30×30.

 


 

Achieving 30×30 goals on California’s federal lands

 

Over 35% of California is held in trust for the American people by the US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) We can advance California’s goal to protect 30% of its lands and waters by 2030 (“30×30”), and its access to nature goals on these lands and waters by pursuing the following three strategies.

 

Convincing the White House to protect federal lands

 

US presidents have the authority under law to issue “national monument” proclamations that can protect federal lands from development and improve their management in other ways. In California we have seen that once established, national monuments are strictly and durably protected from industrial development while legal public recreation opportunities are allowed to continue and are usually even enhanced. 30×30 advocates must maintain pressure on President Joe Biden to establish new monuments in California such as Chuckwalla, Eagle Mountain-Joshua Tree, Kwatsan, and Sáttítla Medicine Lake Highlands, as he recently expanded the existing Berryessa Snow Mountain and San Gabriel Mountains National Monuments (note that for the first time in California history, three of these campaigns are led by Tribes and include proposals for federal agencies to partner with these and other Tribes to collaboratively manage the new proposed monuments).

 

Action: For the latest opportunities to support new and/or expanded national monuments, please visit Monuments For All.

 

Collaborating with champions in Congress

 

Congress has the most authority to permanently protect federal public lands, provide funding for their appropriate management, and sustain and enhance opportunities to access nature on protected lands. Senator Alex Padilla’s Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California Lands Act (“PUBLIC Act”; bill number S. 1776) is a splendid example of what conservation and equitable access champions like him can do in Congress to advance 30×30. Among other things, S. 1776 will:

 

  • Strictly protect from development in perpetuity over 1,235 square miles of public land;
  • Promote ecological restoration and improve fire resilience on over 1,360 square miles of mostly previously logged federal land;

  • Create a Tribal collaborative management framework for federal lands covered by the bill, so that if a Tribe has the interest and capacity, it can develop agreements with federal agencies to help steward the lands; and

  • Promote the establishment of hundreds of miles of new trails for the public.

 

The effort to pass S. 1776 started in 2015 but has thus far been stymied by ongoing divisions in Congress. To advance 30×30 goals, it is critical that we show champions like Senator Padilla that we appreciate their tireless efforts to pass measures like S. 1776 both by saying “thank you” at every opportunity and by continuing to build strong and diverse community support for their visionary measures.

 

Action: For the latest opportunities to support S. 1776 and/or other bills that advance 30×30, please visit calwild.org

 

Engaging in critical federal planning processes

 

All federal lands are covered by one or more long-term management plans. These plans tend to be revised every 15-30 years and cover every aspect of federal land management, including where development is allowed, and which areas will be protected. These plan revision processes offer 30×30 advocates critical opportunities to convince federal agencies to voluntarily improve protection for the lands and waters they oversee until such time as we can win more enduring protection and management guidance.

 

As of early 2024, ongoing federal planning processes in California include BLM’s Northwest California Integrated Resource Management Plan (“NCIP”) and the USFS’ revisions to the Northwest Forest Plan (“NWFP”) of 1994.

 

The draft NCIP is meant to guide the future management of BLM parcels in northwestern California. The draft NCIP was released in 2023 and set a new standard for BLM regional plans by becoming the first to mention California’s 30×30 goals and by proposing to strictly protect hundreds of thousands of acres from development. In addition, the NCIP set a new standard by being the first BLM planning document in California to set recreational equity on public lands as a goal the agency would strive to achieve in the region. The NWFP update will determine the future management of six million acres of USFS managed lands in northwestern California. These lands on the Klamath, Mendocino, Modoc, Shasta-Trinity, and Six Rivers National Forests contain most of California’s remaining “old-growth” trees.

 

To advance 30×30 it is critical that we aggressively engage in these and other federal planning processes such as by urging the BLM to make the final NCIP (expected in June of 2024) even more protective, and asking the USFS to use the NWFP revision to protect California’s remaining ancient trees while working with Tribes and others to restore and maintain the health of forest ecosystems. 

 

We must also start preparing now to aggressively engage in the USFS’ forthcoming effort (expected in 2025) to determine the future management of almost 4,900 square miles of federal lands in the northern Sierra Nevada. This planning effort will impact an area about the size of the State of Connecticut.

 

Action: To help advance 30×30 through these or other long-term planning opportunities, please visit our website for the latest.