In drafting the preliminary report on Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful, federal agencies consulted with many stakeholders, including environmental groups, tribes, fishing industry, and other organizations. Although these groups expressed a range of diverse viewpoints on conservation, the federal agencies identified broad consensus among them in support of eight overarching principles.
These eight principles, as recommended in the report, will guide NOAA as we engage further with stakeholders and develop action plans to advance conservation and restoration in the nation’s waters.
Principle 1: Pursue a Collaborative and Inclusive Approach to Conservation
The spirit of collaboration and shared purpose should animate all aspects of America’s nature conservation and restoration efforts over the next decade. The U.S. should seek to build upon the myriad examples where collaboration and consensus-building have led to significant conservation outcomes. Just last year, Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act on a bipartisan basis, providing the single largest investment in public lands and waters in decades. In the Crown of the Continent in Montana, the northern Everglades in Florida, the Prairie Potholes of the upper Midwest and beyond, farmers, ranchers, and sportsmen and sportswomen have teamed up to conserve some of our nation’s most cherished landscapes and watersheds. From Bristol Bay, Alaska to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to the coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico, fishers, Indigenous communities, and local businesses have worked together to conserve the health and productivity of unparalleled marine resources.
Principle 2: Conserve America’s Lands and Waters for the Benefit of All People
The conservation and restoration of natural places in America should yield meaningful benefits in the lives of all Americans, and these benefits should be equitably distributed. The conservation value of a particular place should not be measured solely in biological terms, but also by its capacity to purify drinking water, to cool the air for a nearby neighborhood, to provide a safe outdoor escape for a community that is park-deprived, to help America prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change, or to unlock access for outdoor recreation, hunting, angling, and beyond. Centering this effort on people also means recognizing the oversized contributions that farmers, ranchers, forest owners, fishers, hunters, rural communities, and Tribal Nations already make in safeguarding wildlife and open spaces for the benefit of the rest of the country, and therefore recognizing and encouraging these remarkable efforts.
Principle 3: Support Locally Led and Locally Designed Conservation Efforts
Every community in the United States has its own relationship with nearby lands and waters, and every community is working in some way to conserve the places that matter the most to it. The Federal Government should do all it can to help local communities achieve their own conservation priorities and vision. Locally and regionally designed approaches can play a key role in conserving resources and be tailored to meet the priorities and needs of local communities and the nation. Conservation and restoration efforts should also be regionally balanced. For example, instead of focusing land conservation efforts primarily on western public lands—as has been a past practice of Federal agencies—agencies should support collaborative conservation efforts across the country on private, State, local, Tribal, and territorial lands. Similarly, marine conservation efforts should reflect regional priorities and seek to achieve balanced stewardship across U.S. ocean areas.
Principle 4: Honor Tribal Sovereignty and Support the Priorities of Tribal Nations
Tribal Nations have sovereign authority over their lands and waters, possess long-standing treaty hunting and fishing rights on and off reservations, and have many cultural, natural, and sacred sites on national public lands and the ocean. Efforts to conserve and restore America’s lands and waters must involve regular, meaningful, and robust consultation with Tribal Nations. These efforts must respect and honor Tribal sovereignty, treaty and subsistence rights, and freedom of religious practices. Federal agencies should seek to support and help advance the priorities of American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Indigenous leaders, including those related to sustainable land management and the conservation of natural, cultural, and historical resources.
Principle 5: Pursue Conservation and Restoration Approaches that Create Jobs and Support Healthy Communities
Conserving and restoring the nation’s lands and waters can yield immense economic benefits.26 A healthy ocean, for example, supports productive fisheries and vibrant working waterfronts. Reducing wildfire risks and restoring ecological balance to the nation’s forests creates jobs in rural communities. Conserving water and restoring ecosystems supports the reliability of the water supply, resiliency to drought, and resistance to flooding. Conserving fish and wildlife habitat and improving access for hunting and fishing spurs the sale of gear, boats, travel, and outfitting. Creating more parks and tree cover in cities cools neighborhoods on dangerously hot days, saves money on utility bills, and improves human health and well-being. These are among the many ways that a locally driven, nationally scaled conservation campaign over the next decade can help lift America’s economy, address environmental justice, and improve quality of life.
Principle 6: Honor Private Property Rights and Support the Voluntary Stewardship Efforts of Private Landowners and Fishers
There is a strong stewardship ethic among America’s fishers, farmers, ranchers, forest owners, and other private landowners. U.S. working lands and waters give our nation food and fiber and keep rural and coastal communities healthy and prosperous. They are also integral to conserving functioning habitats and connecting lands and waters across the country. Efforts to conserve and restore America’s lands and waters must respect the rights of private property owners. Such efforts must also build trust among all communities and stakeholders, including by recognizing and rewarding the voluntary conservation efforts of private landowners and the science-based approaches of fishery managers. President Biden has recognized and honored the leadership role that farmers, ranchers, forest owners, and fishers already play in the conservation of the nation’s lands, waters, and wildlife, and has made clear that his administration will support voluntary stewardship efforts that are already underway across the country’s lands and waters. This commitment includes a clear recognition that maintaining ranching in the West—on both public lands and private lands—is essential to maintaining the health of wildlife, the prosperity of local economies, and an important and proud way of life.
Principle 7: Use Science as a Guide
Scientists have made remarkable gains in understanding the complicated natural systems that support human communities, particularly in the face of climate change. Studies of the carbon sequestration potential of lands and the ocean; of biodiversity loss, ecosystem services, and the movement and migration of wildlife; and of air and water pollution are part of a large and growing body of scientific information that can help guide decisions about how the nation should manage, connect, and conserve its lands and waters. Conservation efforts are more successful and effective when rooted in the best available science and informed by the recommendations of top scientists and subject matter experts. Transparent and accessible information will increase shared understanding and help build trust among stakeholders and the public. The use of Indigenous and Traditional Ecological Knowledge can complement and integrate these efforts.
Principle 8: Build on Existing Tools and Strategies with an Emphasis on Flexibility and Adaptive Approaches
The U.S. has long been a global innovator in natural resource conservation and stewardship, from inventing the idea of national parks to forging market-based strategies for slowing the loss of the nation’s essential wetlands. Though President Biden’s national conservation goal is ambitious, it can be achieved using the wide array of existing tools and strategies that Tribal Nations, territories, State and local governments, private landowners, non-profit organizations, fishing communities, Congress, and Federal agencies have already developed and deployed effectively. These tools range from grant programs for local parks and coastal restoration projects, to conservation programs on working lands, to the designation of locally crafted recreation and conservation areas on public lands and waters, to using the stakeholder-driven processes for marine fisheries management and sanctuary designations, among other examples. Agencies should support the flexible application of tools, innovation in designing new approaches, and, where appropriate, the use of adaptive management to help adjust to a changing climate, shifting pressures, and new science.