America the Beautiful - Frequently Asked Questions

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What does Executive Order 14008 mandate?

  • Section 216(a) of Executive Order 14008, signed by President Biden on January 27, 2021, directs DOI, in consultation with DOC and other agencies, to produce a report to the National Climate Task Force that recommends steps for conserving at least 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. 
  • The report to the Task Force is the first step in designing a process to solicit public and stakeholder input on a strategy for achieving 30x30.
  • Section 216(a)(i) of EO 14008 directs NOAA, among other federal agencies, to “solicit input from state, local, Tribal, and territorial officials, agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, and other key stakeholders in identifying strategies that will encourage broad participation in the goal of conserving 30% of our lands and waters by 2030.”

Separate from  §216(a), §216(c) of the EO requires NOAA to initiate efforts to gather stakeholder input on how to “make fisheries and protected resources more resilient to climate change, including changes in management and conservation measures, and improvements in science, monitoring, and cooperative research.” As part of the NOAA response to §216(c), NOAA published a request for information in the Federal Register on March 3.

What is 30 x 30? How is the U.S. goal different from 30x30 goals that we have heard about in international fora and from the NGO community?

  • The Biden-Harris Administration’s policy, as written in Executive Order 14008, calls for the U.S. to conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. 
  • This goal supports, but is not identical to, 30x30 goals that have been proposed under the Convention on Biological Diversity and that have been promoted by many countries and environmental nongovernmental organizations (ENGOs).  
  • The Executive Order did not specifically define the level of conservation that would be applied to measure progress toward the 30 x 30 target— Federal agencies will conduct further stakeholder engagement on formulating the concept or definition of “conserve”. 
Why does America the Beautiful set a target to “conserve” rather than “protect” lands and waters?

The America the Beautiful Report acknowledges the value of various conservation actions, in addition to protected areas. These include marine protected areas, ecosystem restoration, and areas that allow for sustainable mixed use. Because federal agencies will seek input on how to measure progress toward the 30 percent goal, EO 14008 and the report do not exclude any specific conservation action from consideration at this time.

What are NOAA’s existing marine conservation authorities?

  • The National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA) provides a comprehensive authority to designate national marine sanctuaries and, subject to certain statutorily-mandated consultations, regulate and restrict activities that may damage natural resources, including all extractive and destructive activities. Regulations promulgated by NOAA under NMSA over the years generally allow extractive uses such as commercial and recreational fishing, in accordance with community-specific needs and the act’s stated purpose to “facilitate to the extent compatible with the primary objective of resource protection, all public and private uses of the resources of these marine areas.”
  • The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) establishes the National Coastal Zone Management Program (NCZMP) and authorized designation of National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERR). Reserves provide long-term protection of estuarine lands and waters for research, education, stewardship, and interpretation.  Under the federal-state partnership of the NCZMP, states maintain and enhance public access to the coast and conserve coastal resources through planning, acquisition, and management programs. For instance, the Special Area Management Plan tool authorized by the CZMA enables states to identify a specific coastal or marine area, identify management challenges within that boundary, and conduct a public process to balance use and conservation therein.
  • In federal waters, fisheries are managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), which created eight regional fishery management councils that develop and implement fisheries management plans in cooperation with NOAA.  Most federal MPA managers must work cooperatively with NOAA Fisheries and fishery management councils to address fisheries impacts.  Area-based tools implemented for fisheries management include designation of essential fish habitat, habitat areas of particular concern, and time/area and gear-based restrictions.  
  • The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects all marine mammals within U.S. jurisdiction (both terrestrial and marine) and establishes a national policy to prevent decline of their population to maintain their function. 
  • In listing a species under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA evaluates and identifies whether any areas meet the definition of critical habitat that is necessary to support the recovery of the listed species. Once designated, other federal agencies consult with NOAA to ensure actions they fund, authorize, or undertake are not likely to destroy or adversely modify the critical habitat. The analyses supporting critical habitat designations are based on the best scientific data available and undergo independent peer review.
  • Separate from NOAA-specific authorities, the president may designate marine national monuments under the Antiquities Act to be managed by NOAA. NOAA currently co-manages five marine national monuments: Rose Atoll as part of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, Papahānaumokuākea, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Marianas Trench, and Pacific Remote Islands.
  • Executive Order 13158 directs NOAA’s MPA Center to work cooperatively with DOI to “strengthen and expand” the nation’s system of marine protected areas.  The MPA Center maintains the national MPA Inventory and supports federal and state MPA programs through capacity building, information and tools.
What is NOAA currently doing to solicit input from stakeholders? When will I have an opportunity to inform the process?

We expect the upcoming stakeholder engagement process to occur under an umbrella of interagency coordination, but each agency will individually engage with constituencies on matters that are relevant to its particular stewardship role.

What percentage of U.S. waters, relative to the 30 percent goal, are currently conserved? What areas will be considered as counting toward the conservation goal under 30x30?

To assess U.S. progress toward the 30 percent target, the Administration must first define  the concept  of “conserve” for the purposes of the executive order. NOAA will work with CEQ, DOI, DOC and USDA, to seek input from the public and stakeholders in determining what qualifies. The report to the National Climate Task Force is the first step in designing a process to gather input from stakeholders and the public.

What authority will NOAA use for development of additional areas for 30 x 30?

NOAA has several existing authorities to conserve or restore ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes areas, including the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, Magnuson-Stevens Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Coastal Zone Management Act. NOAA will get stakeholder input on how best to apply these authorities to help achieve the 30x30 goal.

What percentage of U.S. waters is within a marine protected area?

Marine protected areas are not the sole mechanism for achieving conservation of 30 percent of U.S. waters, but they will likely be part of the range of conservation actions. NOAA’s Marine Protected Areas Center, and its partners at ProtectedSeas offsite link, offer resources to visualize and explore the range of marine area-based management strategies currently in place, including the MPA Inventory.

According to NOAA’s MPA Center, using the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) definition offsite link for global reporting, 26 percent of U.S. waters are currently within a marine protected area, but these areas are not well distributed among different geographic regions and habitats, with nearly all of it located in the remote Pacific. For purposes of calculating percentage of MPA coverage, NOAA defines U.S. waters as including waters from the mean high water mark to 200 nm, including inland bays and estuaries and the Great Lakes. 

Both NOAA’s MPA Center and the Marine Conservation Institute offsite link have identified 23 percent of U.S. waters as “highly protected,” where commercial fishing is prohibited (current data does not cover other extractive uses). Three percent of U.S. waters (within the 23 percent) is “fully protected,” with prohibitions on all extractive and destructive activities.

However, the America the Beautiful report calls for existing tools, like the MPA Inventory, to be refined, coordinated, and supplemented to better reflect the state of conservation in America. Through an interagency effort, the U.S. Government will develop a new American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas that will aggregate information from existing databases, as well as information from the States, Tribes, public, stakeholders, and scientists. The Atlas will provide a baseline assessment of how much land, ocean, and other waters in the U.S. are currently conserved or restored.

Will the MPA Inventory be the sole source of data for reporting on the conservation goal?

No, NOAA will use existing tools and multiple sources of information to help lead the interagency process to develop the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas.  These include but are not limited to: NOAA’s Restoration Atlas, Marine Protected Areas Inventory, and fishery management areas.


How did federal agencies engage with Tribes in drafting the report? How will NOAA engage tribes going forward?

During the drafting of the report, federal agencies engaged informally with tribes. We are working on a plan for government-to-government consultation on the key questions related to America the Beautiful, as well as engagement with indigenous groups that are not federally recognized. The report includes principles that support locally led conservation and advance Tribal priorities.

How will Fishery Management Areas developed through the Council process be considered?

We want to hear from you on what criteria should be used to determine which Council Actions meet the “conservation” threshold.  It is important to note that the report:

  • Supports productive fisheries and vibrant working waterfronts.
  • Highlights the strong stewardship ethic of fishermen.
  • Recognizes the science-based approaches of fishery managers.
  • Promotes recreational fishing access and the economic benefit through the sale of gear, boats, travel, and outfitting.
What role does the National Coastal Zone Management Program have in accomplishing the goals of this E.O?

The Coastal Zone Management Program is a voluntary partnership between the federal government and coastal and Great Lakes states and territories. The 34 State and territorial programs provide regulatory frameworks and guidance for local decisions about the use of coastal resources, conservation and restoration of sensitive areas, and coastal-dependent development, including the siting of offshore renewable technologies. These programs are continuing to focus on climate adaptation strategies and policies that increase climate and hazard resilience. The authorizing legislation for CZMP, the Coastal Zone Management Act, also authorizes the designation of National Estuarine Research Reserves.

How do the goals of this E.O work with the NOMEC Council for mapping the U.S. EEZ?

Mapping, exploring, and characterizing are essential components to understanding the natural resources that exist in a marine protected area, as well as help identify potential new areas for conservation. NOMEC’s primary goals are to map, explore and characterize the full extent of the U.S. EEZ by 2040 (>40m by 2030). The data generated from NOMEC Council activities will aid 30x30 conservation goals by identifying marine ecosystems and ecologically sensitive areas throughout U.S. waters.


Stay up to date with all the latest America the Beautiful news! Click here to view the America the Beautiful feed and sign up to receive updates when new content is added to the site. You’ll need to enable an RSS reader to subscribe and view updates. Learn more about RSS and RSS readers and get links to other feeds on this site and across NOAA.