Opinion » Rhetoric & Reason

Let's get beautiful

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On May 6, the Biden administration outlined a vision for how the United States can conserve and restore the lands, waters, and wildlife that sustain the nation. The recommendations in the 24-page report, "Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful," calling for "a locally led nationwide conservation goal to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030."

As I've mentioned previously, California was first out of the gate to commit to the "30 by 30" goal, with Gov. Gavin Newsom's Executive Order N-82-20 last October committing the state to the plan now endorsed by the Biden administration on a national scale.

With the release of the administration's vision document, things are getting real, and the core principles in that document spell out just what the conservation and restoration of America the Beautiful means.

By uncanny coincidence, the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary—proposed for 140 miles of coastline from Gaviota Creek in Santa Barbara County to Santa Rosa Creek in Cambria and containing biologically productive and diverse ecosystems such as kelp, wetlands, and estuaries—checks every one of those boxes.

The report affirms the goal of supporting locally led and locally designed conservation efforts: "Agencies should support collaborative conservation efforts across the country on private, state, local, tribal, and territorial lands. Similarly, marine conservation efforts should reflect regional priorities and seek to achieve balanced stewardship across U.S. ocean areas." (Check.)

The report affirms the goal of honoring tribal sovereignty and supporting the priorities of tribal nations: "Efforts to conserve and restore America's lands and waters must involve regular, meaningful, and robust consultation with tribal nations. ... Federal agencies should seek to support and help advance the priorities of American Indian, Alaska native, native Hawaiian, and Indigenous leaders, including those related to sustainable land management and the conservation of natural, cultural, and historical resources." (Check.)

The report affirms the goal of pursuing conservation and restoration approaches that create jobs and support healthy communities: "A healthy ocean, for example, supports productive fisheries and vibrant working waterfronts. ... A locally driven, nationally scaled conservation campaign over the next decade can help lift America's economy, address environmental justice, and improve quality of life." (Check.)

The report affirms the goal of honoring private property rights and supporting the voluntary stewardship efforts of private landowners and fishers: "U.S. working lands and waters give our nation food and fiber and keep rural and coastal communities healthy and prosperous. They are also integral to conserving functioning habitats and connecting lands and waters across the country." (Check.)

The report affirms the goal of using science as a guide: "Conservation efforts are more successful and effective when rooted in the best available science and informed by the recommendations of top scientists and subject matter experts. Transparent and accessible information will increase shared understanding and help build trust among stakeholders and the public. The use of Indigenous and traditional ecological knowledge can complement and integrate these efforts." (Check.)

The report affirms that it will build on existing tools and strategies with an emphasis on flexibility and adaptive approaches—including "using the stakeholder-driven processes for marine fisheries management and sanctuary designations." (Double check.)

And finally, there is the overarching statement that the administration's vision for 30 by 30 recognizes that "many uses of our lands and waters, including of working lands, can be consistent with the long-term health and sustainability of natural systems," i.e. fishermen keep fishing in national marine sanctuaries, which pride themselves on the fact that "while resource protection is the primary goal of the program, multiple use of the marine environment is allowed as long as it is compatible with this goal."

Then there's the recent statement by Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) "should expand the national marine sanctuary system."

Then there's the directive from Congress, in its latest appropriation for NOAA, directing the agency to proceed with the designation of all five nominated sanctuaries it has in inventory. The Chumash Heritage sanctuary nomination has been waiting in that inventory for more than five years. All credit to the Northern Chumash Tribal Council for persisting through the exhaustive nomination process and for renewing that nomination last year, prior to the five-year expiration mark.

In 2020, NOAA issued a request for public comments on the proposed sanctuary and received more than 14,300 comments overwhelmingly in support, including letters of support from local officials and state and federal legislators.

"Preservation of tribal spiritual and cultural resources is our heritage and responsibility," says Violet Sage Walker, spokesperson for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council. "Successful implementation of this plan and the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would protect marine abundance, sacred Chumash sites, strengthen Indigenous communities, and serve as a model of environmental justice."

An opportunity to contribute to state and national 30 by 30 goals by advancing the first tribal-led national marine sanctuary designation, setting a precedent for elevating Indigenous participation and cultural values in state and federal ocean conservation, is now at hand in our backyard, having arrived at the right place at the right time. Δ

Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send a response for publication to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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