WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Thursday detailed steps to achieve an ambitious goal to conserve nearly one-third of America's lands and waters by 2030, relying on voluntary efforts to preserve public, private and tribal areas while also helping tackle climate change and create jobs.
A report, with the lofty title “America the Beautiful,” calls for a decade-long commitment on projects nationwide to make the conservation and restoration of lands and waters an urgent priority. The plan would purify drinking water, increase green space, improve access to outdoor recreation, restore healthy fisheries, reduce the risk of wildfires and recognize the “oversized contributions'' of farmers, ranchers, forest owners, fishers, hunters, rural communities and tribal nations.
In the process, the effort will produce thousands of new jobs and a stronger economy while also addressing climate change and environmental justice, including expanded access by disadvantaged communities to the outdoors, the report said.
President Joe Biden has set a goal of conserving at least 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. If successful, the plan will help slow global warming and preserve some of the nation's most scenic lands for future generations of Americans, the report said.
About 12% of the nation's lands and 25% of its waters are currently protected, according to research by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. Those protected areas include not just parks but also wilderness areas, game refuges, agricultural lands, forests, ranches and other sites with conservation easements.
The plan released Thursday recommends a series of actions, including expansion of a federal grant program to create local parks, especially in cities and other “nature-deprived communities.'' The report also suggests grants for Native American tribes to support tribal conservation priorities; expansion of fish and wildlife habitats and corridors; increased access for outdoor recreation; and creation of a “civilian climate corps'' to work on conservation and restoration projects nationwide.
The plan follows through on a Biden campaign promise and builds on the Great American Outdoors Act, a 2020 law passed by Congress that authorizes nearly $3 billion for conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public lands.
Even with that injection of federal dollars, the Biden plan relies heavily on voluntary conservation efforts by farmers, ranchers, forest owners and fishing communities. No cost estimate for the project was provided. Much of the spending could be done through department budgets, as well as the 2020 outdoors law, the 2018 farm bill and Biden's proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, officials said.
“The president's challenge is a call to action to support locally led conservation and restoration efforts of all kinds and all over America, wherever communities wish to safeguard the lands and waters they know and love,'' the report says. “Doing so will not only protect our lands and waters but also boost our economy and support jobs nationwide.''
The report was signed by three Cabinet members — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — along with Brenda Mallory, who leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
“Nature plays an important role in improving resilience to climate change and creating a thriving economy,'' Haaland said at a news conference Thursday.
White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy said the Great Outdoors law, which bankrolls the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund and takes aim at a growing maintenance backlog at national parks, was a “down payment'' on the conservation initiative. The law authorizes $900 million a year for that fund and an additional $1.9 billion per year on improvements at parks, forests, wildlife refuges and range lands.
“There are many tools available to us'' to pay for the conservation program, McCarthy said. The report is only the “starting point'' on a path to fulfill Biden's conservation vision, she and other officials said.
“Where this path leads over the next decade will be determined not by our agencies, but by the ideas and leadership of local communities,'' the Cabinet officials said in the report. “It is our job to listen, learn and provide support along the way to ... pass on healthy lands, waters and wildlife to the generations to come.''
Environmental and outdoors groups hailed the initiative.
“The bottom line is that healthier public lands and waters mean more opportunities for Americans to recreate outside and for communities' economies to thrive,'' said Jessica Turner, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition that represents a range of outdoor businesses.
Alex Taurel of the League of Conservation Voters added: “We are all-in to help reach and exceed” Biden's goal “to tackle the climate crisis and expand access to nature in America the beautiful.''Chris Wood, president of Trout Unlimited, a fisheries conservation group, said “there's a lot to like'' in Biden's initiative, especially its emphasis on local actions. “A bunch of directives from the top won't get us where we need to go,? he said in an interview.
Provisions to protect landscapes and improve resiliency against drought, wildfire and floods are crucial, Wood said, noting that natural disasters “don't respect wilderness boundaries'' or property lines. He pledged to work with the administration develop more detailed plans.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said the report “uses vague buzz-words” and does not resolve his concern that “this is nothing but an effort to lock up lands, which will hurt Montana's farmers and ranchers and kill jobs.'' Daines, a co-sponsor of the Great Outdoors law, accused Biden of “pushing ambiguous political ambitions motivated by headlines rather than results.''
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — More than 45,000 people are vying for one of a dozen spots to help thin a herd of bison at Grand Canyon National Park.
The odds aren't as good as drawing a state tag to hunt the massive animals beyond the boundaries of the Grand Canyon, but they're far better than getting struck by lightning or winning the Powerball.
“Just keeping my fingers crossed that I'm one out of 12,'' said Rich Dawley Jr. a 29-year-old farmer outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania who applied. “You can't win unless you play.''
The National Park Service opened a rare opportunity for skilled shooters to kill bison at the Grand Canyon's North Rim where officials say they've been trampling on archaeological and other resources, and spoiling the water.
Potential volunteers had 48 hours to apply. The opportunity drew 45,040 applicants, about 15% of which were Arizona residents. About one-third of the applicants were from Texas, California, Colorado and Utah, said Larry Phoenix, a regional supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The department will select 25 names through a lottery, vet them and forward finalists to the park service. The first 12 who to submit a packet of information requested by the park service will be part of the volunteer program in the fall, Grand Canyon spokeswoman Kaitlyn Thomas said Wednesday.
The volunteers who are selected will find out May 17.
The work is expecting to be grueling, done on foot at elevations of 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) or higher at the Grand Canyon's North Rim. Volunteers can't use motorized transportation or stock animals to retrieve the bison that can weigh up to 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) and will have to field dress them with help from a support crew. Snow could also be a factor.
None of that deterred James Vasko from applying. He joked that he had great odds and already planned to bring the best man from his wedding along for the trip.
“I just thought it would be a cool experience,'' said Vasko, a 27-year-old who works in real estate and farms in Omaha, Nebraska. “I'm an avid fisher, hunter. Going to Grand Canyon to hunt bison would be absolutely awesome.''
Park officials are clear that it's not a hunt because it doesn't involve fair chase. Hunting is prohibited within national parks, but the agency has authority to kill animals that harm resources, using park staff or volunteers.
Matt Mallery, an archaeologist in Flagstaff who applied, said using volunteers is cost-effective, logical and provides an opportunity to harvest organic meat that can be cost-prohibitive through the state hunt. Removing bison also helps keep the ecosystem in check, he said.
“It needs to happen for management purposes,'' said Mallery, 49. “And if it's going to be somebody, it may as well be me.''
The park released a plan in September 2017 after an environmental review that called for a mix of corralling the animals near the highway that leads to the North Rim and relocating them, and for skilled volunteers to shoot. The park has removed about 90 animals so far and transported them to Native American tribes.
Killing bison won't decrease the herd by much. Each volunteer can take one animal out of the 300-500 estimated to be roaming the far northern reaches of Arizona. The goal population is 200.
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — Less than six months after former President Donald Trump signed Bison Range Restoration legislation, there are big changes at the 19,000-acre facility in Northwest Montana as it opens this weekend.
The facility is now called the Bison Range and is in federal trust ownership for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Congress passed the act and Trump signed it Dec. 27, 2020.
The Tribe is working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to transition from federal to tribal management of the property located in Lake and Sanders counties.
Entrance fees have increased and hours of operation have changed slightly, the Daily Inter Lake reports.
Beginning, Saturday, May 8, a daily or annual pass per vehicle will be required to enter the Bison Range. The entire facility is a fee use area, including the day-use area. The new rate is $10 per car daily, up from the previous $5 day pass. The Bison Range annual pass is $20 per year, up from the previous $15 fee.
Because the Bison Range is no longer a Fish & Wildlife Service or National Park Service facility, federal-use passes no longer will be accepted for entrance fees or sold at the Bison Range.
These include the America the Beautiful or Golden Age passes, as well as the access pass, which meant free entry for U.S. citizens with a permanent disability, or the military pass, which gave free entry for U.S. military members and their dependents. The ‘Every Kid in a Park' pass free to all fourth-grade students also is no longer available.
Tribal officials said all proceeds will be used for the management and operation of the Bison Range.
As it has been in the past, there is no charge for CSKT members with tribal identification.
The Bison Range used to be open dawn to dusk, but now the front gate opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m., seven days a week.
Also, beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, May 8, Red Sleep Drive opens, with the last car allowed on the drive at 6 p.m.
Prairie Drive is open all year, and visitors are asked to exit the front gate by 8 p.m.
Saturday will be the first day the Visitor Center will be partially open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., to pay fees and pick up maps/brochures; facilities will be available.
The Tribe is still following CSKT COVID guidelines and requires anyone entering the building to wear a face mask, over the mouth and nose, and adhere to social distancing.
The Visitor Center staff will be available daily to assist visitors with resource questions and new informational and educational materials will be added during the upcoming summer.
The Tribal Council has adopted as its interim Bison Range management plan, the current Comprehensive Conservation Plan that was developed and adopted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 2019 (for which CSKT was a cooperating agency).
Over the next few months visitors will begin to see a new look in signs and the remodeling of the visitor center. However, the annual reopening of Red Sleep drive over Mother's Day weekend will remain the same. This 19-mile one-way gravel scenic auto tour increases opportunities to see baby calves and other wildlife that reside on the Bison Range year-round.
Visitors are asked to be patient while the museum is remodeled. A new gift shop is on track to open in June.
Visitors are asked to be courteous of other visitors, respect all wildlife from a distance, and remove any garbage.
For more information visit www.bisonrange.org or contact the CSKT Natural Resources Department at 406-883-2888.