The US inches closer to protecting 30 percent of all its lands and oceans

Here's what you need to know about the White House Conservation in Action Summit.
President Joe Biden standing at a podium, addressing the White House Conservation in Action Summit.
President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conservation in Action Summit at the US Interior Department on March 21, 2023. The summit is meant to highlight the administration's investments to advance conservation, restoration, and stewardship efforts, as well as access to nature in communities nationwide. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

On March 21, President Biden hosted the White House Conservation in Action Summit. His administration announced two new national monuments aimed to conserve and restore land, a possible new marine sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean, and the “first of its kind” Ocean Climate Action Plan.

“Our natural wonders are literally the envy of the world,” President Biden said while addressing the summit. “They’ve always been and they always will be as central to our heritage as a people and essential to our identity as a nation.”

[Related: ‘Humanity on thin ice’ says UN, but there is still time to act on climate change.]

Here’s a look at some of the announcements and plans from the summit.

Two new national monuments

Biden announced two new monuments, one in Nevada and another in Texas. Nevada’s Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, “will honor Tribal Nations and Indigenous peoples while conserving our public lands and growing America’s outdoor recreation economy,” according to a press release from the Biden Administration.  The new national monument site spans more than 500,000 acres of rugged landscape close to the California and Arizona state lines. It’s home to desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, some almost 900 year-old Joshua Trees, and the sacred desert mountain Avi Kwa Ame.

“The Mojave people, known as the people by the river, hold Avi Kwa Ame in our hearts,” said Fort Mojave Indian Tribal Chairman Timothy Williams at the summit. “Avi Kwa Ame, also known as Spirit Mountain, lays within the vast landscape of the pristine land of Southern Nevada. It is a place we know as our creation. It is the beginning of our traditional songs, and it is the place that Nevada nations throughout the southwest hold sacred.”

In southern Texas, the new Castner Range National Monument intends to honor veterans, servicemembers, and Tribal Nations, while expanding access to the outdoors for the El Paso community. Castner Range is located on Fort Bliss and was once a training and testing site for the United States Army during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. 

Castner Range also hosts significant cultural sites for Tribal Nations, including the Apache and Pueblo peoples, the Comanche Nation, Hopi Tribe, and Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma. 

“Today’s historic announcement has been decades in the making,” said Representative Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, who has pushed for this designation. “Generations of activists have dedicated countless hours and resources toward achieving this once seemingly impossible goal. It brings me such joy to know that El Pasoans will soon be able to enjoy the beauty of this majestic, expansive landmark for years to come.”

[Related: Biden sets an ambitious goal to protect 30 percent of US lands and waters.]

Protecting Pacific Remote Islands

President Biden will direct Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondoto to consider a new National Marine Sanctuary designation within the next 30 days. The designation will protect all US waters near the Pacific Remote Islands (PRI’s). These remote islands and atolls located in the Central Pacific have nearly 777,000 square miles of water around them and expanding the current protections in these areas would further President Biden’s “30 by 30” plan of conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. ocean waters by 2030. 

If enacted, the area would be larger than Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, an area that protects 583,000 square miles around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. President Barack Obama expanded the area in 2016 and the monument is already helping to restore large fish species like tuna.

“Our world’s oceans are at mortal risk, a breaking point precipitated by the unsustainable overfishing and other resource extraction, debris and land-based pollution, exacerbated and compounded by the devastating and pervasive marine effects of climate change,” said Representative Ed Case, D- Honolulu from Makapu’u to Mililani and Ko Olina. “As a nation, we have a duty to ensure the long-term survival of the PRI’s ecological, scientific and cultural value.”

US Ocean Climate Action Plan

According to President Biden, the first-ever Ocean Climate Action Plan will “harness the tremendous power of the ocean to help in our fight against the climate crisis.” He touted building more offshore wind farms to reduce carbon emissions, fortifying coastal communities, and better fisheries management in the speech and this new plan for the ocean. 

The plan outlines actions to meet three major goals: creating a carbon-neutral future without the harmful emissions that cause the climate to change, accelerating nature-based solutions, and enhancing resilience through ocean-based solutions like blue carbon that will help communities adapt and thrive in the face of an ever-changing climate. 

[Related: In the latest State of the Union, Biden highlights infrastructure, chips, and healthcare.]

To many environmental advocates, the plan comes not a moment too soon. On March 20, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their Sixth Synthesis Report on climate change, which found that there is still a chance for humanity to avoid the worst of climate change’s future harms, but it might be our last chance.

“It’s reassuring that President Biden is taking the climate crisis seriously and ensuring that our oceans are factored into the plan to address it. To date, our oceans have helped protect us from the worst impacts of climate change, and we know they can play an outsized role in keeping the planet from warming to catastrophic levels,” said Oceana’s Vice President for the United States, Beth Lowell, in a press release. “But in order for that to happen, countries like the United States must stop the expansion of dirty and dangerous offshore drilling.”

Oil drilling was front and center at some of the protests the same day as the conservation summit. Climate activists gathered outside the Interior Department, protesting what they call Biden’s “climate hypocrisy.” Representatives from activist groups like Democracy Now! demanded that the Biden Administration change course on the controversial Willow oil project in Alaska. On March 13, President Biden approved the $8 billion plan to extract 600 million barrels of oil from federal land, despite a campaign promise of “no more drilling on federal lands, period.”