Conservation Lands Foundation Board Chair Ed Norton and Executive Director Brian Sybert today sent a letter to President Joe Biden and congressional leadership urging them to prioritize restoration of Bureau of Land Management lands and local non-profit organizations as direct recipients of funding in future economic recovery legislation. Doing so will ensure faster economic recovery for gateway communities and optimal stewardship and restoration outcomes for these landscapes.

Read the full text of the letter below:

As America continues to confront the significant public health and economic crises presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Conservation Lands Foundation and the Friends Grassroots Network urge you to focus on “Restoration and Resilience Jobs” as a key element of a future economic recovery package.

Through our work to protect, restore, and expand the National Conservation Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, we understand the importance of, and we are committed to, protecting and stewarding these critical landscapes—for the natural, ecological, and economic values they hold as well as the mental and physical health benefits they provide for so many.

Today, only 14% of the 200 million acres of public lands the Bureau of Land Management manages are in a protected status. This provides a ripe opportunity to conserve a significant amount of public land in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change and loss of biodiversity. Many of these lands remain in their natural state, provide connectivity corridors and habitat for wildlife and surround our essential western rivers.

A recent study that assessed current opportunities to achieve the national goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s lands by 2030 (30x30) in the U.S. through conserving public, private, state, Department of Defense and tribal lands found the Bureau of Land Management plays a critical role in reaching this goal. To achieve 30x30, we must protect more Bureau of Land Management land than private, Department of Defense and state lands combined. The Bureau of Land Management represents the greatest opportunity for the U.S. to achieve 30x30, and we are calling on your administration to prioritize the protection of these vital public lands.

The benefits of doing so are many-fold: Investing in good-paying jobs and careers, rebuilding outdoor recreational infrastructure, restoring fish and wildlife habitat, and reclaiming degraded lands and waters is a key to economic recovery and climate change mitigation. Particularly as America confronts the overlapping crises affecting public health and the disproportionate losses of life from COVID-19 in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities, the toxic damage that racial injustice and environmental recklessness inflict on communities of color, and the increasingly severe impacts of the climate crisis on communities and local economies, achieving this is more important now than ever.

Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (P.L. 116-152) represents a significant achievement towards these ends. The National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund (Fund), however, provides only up to $95 million per year, or just 5% of the funding available, for deferred maintenance on Bureau of Land Management lands--the largest estate of federal public lands. Additionally, the structure of the Fund, and how funding will be allocated, limits the ability of local non-profit organizations that steward and protect Bureau of Land Management landscapes to access resources to perform this work and provide economic opportunities for gateway communities.

With these issues and the essential role Bureau of Land Management public lands will play in addressing the climate crisis in mind, as you seek to craft a “Restoration and Resilience Jobs” title in a future economic recovery package, we urge you to incorporate the following principles to ensure the funding provided by Congress achieves this purpose.

Perform Stringent Oversight of Bureau of Land Management Spending

Congress must ensure that any legislation providing funding to the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of the Interior for restoration and resilience projects is spent directly for the purpose of conserving and restoring these landscapes, is allocated to recipient organizations in a transparent manner, and empowers Congress the ability to perform stringent and proper oversight over the use of this funding to ensure optimal investment of taxpayer dollars and on-the-ground outcomes.

Prioritize Local Non-Profits as Funding Recipients

Experience has shown us that long-lasting conservation is rooted in community-based action. The National Conservation Lands and other lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management are stewarded and protected by a national movement of 80 grassroots organizations, the Friends Grassroots Network, who protect, restore, and ensure access to these critical landscapes for their cultural, natural, ecological and economic values. These organizations are community-based, diverse, and skilled non-profit organizations that provide jobs and economic opportunity in local communities through their investment in America’s public lands. A full list of the members of the Friends Grassroots Network can be found at https://www.conservationlands.org/friends_grassroots_network.

For these reasons, local non-profit organizations should be prioritized as direct recipients of funding in order to ensure expeditious economic recovery for the gateway communities where these organizations are based, as well as optimal stewardship and restoration outcomes for these landscapes. Examples of shovel-ready projects that these organizations are poised and ready to begin working on and employ staff towards completion of these projects, should funding become available, are attached to this letter.

Focus on the Bureau of Land Management’s National Conservation Lands for Restoration and Stewardship

The National Conservation Lands represent our nation’s natural, cultural and outdoor heritage and help drive our $887 billion outdoor recreation economy that directly supports 7.6 million American jobs. The National Conservation Lands are also critical landscapes for achieving the national goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s lands by 2030 in an effort to mitigate the climate crisis, playing a critical role in the climate system and in providing the basis for human livelihoods, food supply, freshwater and biodiversity. These landscapes, as well as additional Bureau of Land Management lands worthy of the designation as National Conservation Lands in the future, should be the focus of restoration and stewardship funding and programming.

These priorities align with recommendations made by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in its report, the Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America. Specifically, the report cited the need to “protect at least 30% of all U.S. lands and ocean areas by 2030, prioritizing areas with high ecological, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration value” and to “create jobs through conservation and reclamation by reestablishing the Civilian Conservation Corps [and] creating a Climate Resilience Service Corps....”

Members of the Friends Grassroots Network stand ready to lead the way toward economic recovery and the necessary stewardship and protection of America’s most critical landscapes, and we call on Congress to take action to provide them with the resources to begin this important work.

Attachment: Shovel-Ready Restoration Projects on Bureau of Land Management Lands

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