Conservation groups praised the Biden administration’s first step in conserving 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030, but the nation’s largest farm group said the initiative still lacks specifics, and a key farm-state senator said he was worried about removing too much land from production.

The American Farm Bureau Federation “appreciates that the report acknowledges concerns we have raised and recognizes the oversized contributions of farmers and ranchers to conservation while feeding the world,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a short statement.

A report released today to guide what is being called the “America the Beautiful” program emphasized the importance of protecting private property rights and rewarding the work done by farmers and ranchers on working lands.

“That recognition must carry through implementation,” Duvall said. “The report is a philosophical document that emphasizes important principles such as incentive-based voluntary conservation, protecting personal and property rights and continued ranching on public lands, but it lacks specifics. I had several positive conversations with Secretary Vilsack about 30x30, and we will work with him and his colleagues to ensure the details live up to promises made to protect American agriculture.”

On his weekly call with reporters Thursday morning, Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley said he was concerned that an increase in payment rates under the Conservation Reserve Program could hurt local economies.

“It could be destructive as you take land out of production,” Grassley said, citing the impact of land set aside for the CRP on input and processing businesses. In particular, he said high CRP payment rates could price young farmers and cash-rent farmers out of the market.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the initiative would require more funding of USDA conservation programs, citing the need to provide more technical assistance to farmers.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council, representing ranchers, had positive things to say as did the National Corn Growers Association.

"We are pleased to see USDA and [the Interior Department] incorporate many of the recommendations of America's farmers and ranchers into this conservation plan,” said Kaitlynn Glover, NCBA's executive director of natural resources and PLC executive director. “This is a productive starting point that builds on the input of a diverse array of stakeholders — and moving forward, our focus will be on holding the administration and federal agencies to it."

The report specifically recognizes western ranchers. “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,” the report says.

NCGA President John Linder said his group was “pleased to learn of the emphasis on voluntary conservation measures. NCGA has long advocated that voluntary conservation efforts are the best ways to deliver sustainable results on the farm. And we conveyed that to the administration in a conversation with them about their 30x30 initiative last month."

Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, said the "report understands the valuable work that family farmers are already doing to improve soil, water, and air quality and commits to advancing that work in the future. We are glad to have clarity on the matter and look forward to continued collaboration with the administration to ensure these principles are followed.”

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Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said, “The recommendations from the administration recognize that we must engage all interested constituencies to create enduring solutions for climate and biodiversity. We are excited to support this growing local, national and global effort.” 

National Wildlife Federation also praised the plan. “Hunters and anglers are encouraged by this conservation blueprint and look forward to working with the administration and our partners to see these improvements come to life,” said Aaron Kindle, NWF’s director of sporting advocacy.

On a call with reporters Thursday, administration officials stressed the importance of the nation’s hunting and fishing community. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland noted that the Fish and Wildlife Service had just announced “a proposal to expand hunting and fishing opportunities across 2.1 million acres across 90 national wildlife refuges — the largest expansion in recent history.”

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