Large grazers are important to prairie health.
Cow at Platte Prairies Large grazers are important to prairie health. © Chris Helzer/TNC

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30-by-30 Deserves a Fair Hearing

Nebraska Trustees Share Thoughts on "America the Beautiful" Plan

  • Jill Wells
    Writer
    The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska
    Email: jwells@tnc.org

This Op-Ed originally appeared in the Omaha World-Herald On June 15th, 2021.

We are writing in support of the 30-by-30 plan for conservation of American's land and water, also referred to as "America the Beautiful."

The Nature Conservancy’s Board of Trustees is committed to advancing conservation practices on private lands; Nebraska is, of course, a private lands state, and to fulfill this mission, we rely on the leadership of ranchers and farmers.   

Many of our staff members, trustees, families, and friends work in agriculture; and as Nebraskans, none of us are far removed from the farm or the ranch. TNC proudly works alongside private landowners, landowner-led conservation associations, agribusinesses, and Tribal, state and federal partners to provide conservation tools to landowners through voluntary programs. It is this type of collaboration that ultimately leads to success.

When a huge effort like America the Beautiful is announced, we believe skepticism is healthy.  Conserving 30% of our lands and waters by 2030 is wildly ambitious. Does it mean that productive agricultural land is going to be yanked out of production, as some have speculated? None of us would support that. It would tank our economy and bankrupt our schools – not to mention changing our way of life and our culture. No one wants that to happen.

Fortunately, there are better ways for conservation to happen at a larger scale. Taken as written, America the Beautiful outlines locally-led principles that honor private property rights and support voluntary conservation efforts.

We have seen this approach work well at The Nature Conservancy. Ranchers in the Sandhills tell us they are pleased with the positive results of controlled burns on their operation’s bottom lines.  TNC staff believe that ranching is the very reason Nebraska has healthy, intact grasslands to steward – not in spite of cattle, but because of them. Farmers enrolled in precision irrigation and soil health efforts led by TNC have saved time, water, and money with the tools they’ve tested, always on a voluntary basis. 

As pressure mounts to feed and fuel the world, one thing is certain – working lands can (and do) work for conservation.  TNC’s science – and the research published by Nebraska universities – clearly reflects that.  It is becoming clear that access to tools like more local weather stations, smart technologies, safe fire, grazing management tools - and crucially, compensation for these practices - will be at the heart of America the Beautiful. 

TNC envisions a Nebraska where farmers and ranchers can thrive alongside iconic species.  As the details of this initiative develop, we ask our fellow Nebraskans to keep an open mind. Voluntary programs to aid conservation, to expand hunting and fishing, and to sustain wildlife have the potential to help us to conserve the Nebraska we love together. 

By Dr. Anne Hubbard, Board Chair Emeritus, and Dr. Jim Armitage, Dr. Richard Fruehling, and Ron Schaefer, on behalf of the Executive Committee of The Nature Conservancy’s Board of Trustees in Nebraska. 

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.