America the Rebeautified

“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain.”

The song has inspired generations. But few seem to realize that those “amber waves of grain” replaced the fruited plains even before we curtailed their waves! In a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare, America successfully fed the world and impaired its own natural beauty at the same time.

Today, I want to make you aware of an opportunity to make your voice heard in the cause of restoring America’s tragically lost beauty. 

America the Beautiful is an initiative from the Biden administration to conserve 30% of America’s land by 2030. This initiative is part of a global movement triggered by EO Wilson’s “half earth” concept I mentioned a few weeks ago.

In the past, “conservation” meant putting land behind a fence. But continental scale conservation is simply not possible with an “off limits” model. It’s now been 150 years since the first National Park (Yellowstone) was created, and we have only 1% of the total land area of the Lower 48 states protected in National Parks (~20 million acres).

Thus the 30% target is incredibly ambitious. I don’t think they’re going to get away with counting manicured lawns as conservation land, so here’s a factoid that might raise eyebrows: US grazing land makes up ~33% of lower 48 US land area – 40% if you count the land growing feed for the current feedlot system (outlined in red below). 

Source: “How America Uses Its Land” Bloomberg, July 31, 2018. [annotations added in red]

Now some might look at that picture and think: ‘Awesome, just get rid of the cows and the problem is solved!’ But the savvy among you know that nature doesn’t work quite so simply – grasslands need grazers as much as the other way around. And even better, when we manage cattle to mimic the patterns of the lost bison, thriving grasslands can return. So not surprisingly, my own reaction is: ‘Awesome, fixing how we manage cows is one way we can rapidly restore America’s beauty at scale.

For those (like me) that like numbers, Audubon Conservation Ranching has now certified 3.5 million acres of land in 13 states. Only in its first 5 years, that’s already 60% more acres than in Yellowstone National Park! If we were able to implement Audubon Conservation Ranching on just 10% of US grazing land (~650 million acres), that would be 3 times the size our entire National Park system. Although there’s no technical reason we couldn’t certify that much land in 10 years, even if it took us 100 years to reach that 10% goal (below chart), seems to me that would be a remarkable bang for the buck!  

And under the ACR program, the land itself is mostly owned by private citizens who are simply paid by people like you and me to produce food that restores that land. Hey, and if we could get 100% of Americans to give a damn about where their food comes from, there’s no reason we couldn’t certify 100% of US grazing land under ACR at a miniscule fraction of the cost of any federal program. Others are going to have to propose ways to restore the purple mountains, green forests, and blue coastlines, but I believe that ACR has what it takes to restore vibrant beauty to the formerly fruited plains!

So here’s what I would like to ask of you! The America the Beautiful initiative is proposing to develop a “Conservation & Stewardship Atlas” to document real-world examples of conservation that might inspire others. The group is specifically seeking comments on:

  1. Science and Data. What data sources, standards, and technical approaches should be applied to data included in the Atlas to ensure that it is an authoritative and useful tool for the public? 
  2. Conservation as a Continuum. How can the Atlas reflect the meaningful conservation work already underway in America?What stewardship actions should be considered, in addition to permanent protections, to capture a more complete picture of conservation and restoration in America?What are the attributes of lands and waters that should be included in the Atlas? Considerations could include, for example, a clearly defined geographic boundary, status of ecological function, representation of species and habitats, extent of disturbance, expected future risks from climate change or other human stressors, ecosystem connectivity, or durability of management status.How can the Atlas best reflect the contributions of State, local, Tribal, territorial, and private lands?
  3. Outcomes. How can the Atlas best reflect land and water contributions to biodiversity, climate change mitigation and resilience, and equitable access to nature and its benefits?

From where I stand, Audubon Conservation ranching is well underway as an example of conservation that is additional to ‘permanent protections.’ 

The proposal to create this Atlas is now open for public comments through March 7, 2022. So here’s your chance to make your voice heard! Simply click here to go to the site where you can add your comments to the array of voices telling our federal government how you think we can best achieve these “30 by 30” goals. It’s entirely up to you what you want to say, but here’s a few ideas you might consider:

  • Opportunity to feature Audubon Conservation Ranching in the Atlas
  • Grassland birds, having declined more than 50% in less than 50 years, are one of the biggest and most urgent conservation issues in America
  • Restoring grassland bird habitat by grazing cattle differently represents a large conservation opportunity on land that constitutes 33% of Lower 48 US land area
  • ACR achieves conservation outcomes while also producing healthy food
  • ACR benefits bird habitat, carbon sequestration and other key ecosystem functions
  • ACR restores full ecosystems that span the continent
  • ACR engages consumers in a market-based conservation initiative 
  • ACR rewards America’s farmers and ranchers for adopting conservation practices
  • What other ideas or priorities do you see for rebeautifying America?

Blue Nest Beef exists so that people like you can vote with your fork for a different food system that can heal the planet instead of hurting it. We are grateful every time you support our mission with your purchases. But we have a very long way to go, so here’s your chance to vote with your voice to public officials as well.  

I honestly don’t know what will come of this initiative or the Atlas itself, but count me in on the whole “America the Beautiful” thing. However, this time I want reality, and not just a song. 😉

Russ Conser

Blue Nest Beef Co-Founder & CEO

Learn more about the “America The Beautiful” initiative
Submit your comments on the “Conservation & Stewardship Atlas”
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