Shortly after taking office President Joe Biden signed an executive order ostensibly to protect the nation’s “natural heritage.”  The “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” plan — often referred to as the “30 by 30” program — has as its aim to “protect” 30 percent of the nation’s land by 2030 by creating “National Heritage Areas.” 

Several areas in North Central Kansas and parts of Nebraska have already been proposed to be taken over by the Biden administration, and the creation of these “National Heritage Areas” is outside of the control of the states. 

Such a designation is under the purview of the National Park Service and Congress and once such a designation is made, reversing it is nearly impossible.

Moreover, even the Washington Post noted the plan as it currently exists is long on ambition — but short on details.

The Post notes the new report “doesn’t identify specific places for enhanced protection, define what level of conservation would be required for an area to count toward the administration’s 30 percent goal or indicate how much federal funding would be needed to make Biden’s vision a reality.”

Agriculture would be hit hard; Gov. Kelly encourages

In Nebraska, Republican Governor Pete Ricketts has been aggressive in trying to combat what he — and many others — see as a land grab by the federal government.

In a press release dated June 8, Ricketts pointed out that “protecting” nearly a third of the country by 2030 would require restricting a land area the size of the state of Nebraska every year, or double the state of Texas by 2030.

Given that the majority of already protected land is in states west of Kansas — and in some like Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and Alaska, the majority of the state is already under federal control — much of the increase would have to come from other largely-rural states in the Central Plains and Midwest. And most of that land is under agricultural use.

While Nebraska’s governor has blasted the plan and gone on record in opposition, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has more-or-less lauded the plan, stating in a letter to the secretaries of the interior and agriculture “With over 98% of the land in Kansas being privately owned, I’m encouraged with the statement in Section 214 of the EO that recognizes how farmers and ranchers ‘have an important role to play.'”

However, having “an important role to play,” is not the same thing as being consulted, or not suddenly finding land that has been in the family for generations suddenly “protected.”

At least 18 Kansas County Commissions have passed resolutions in opposition to the plan and are urging Kelly to stand in opposition rather than simply “offering recommendations.”

Decatur, Ottawa, Russell, Sheridan, Phillips, Republic, Trego, Ellsworth, Ellis, Graham, Lincoln, Rooks, Smith, Osborne, Cloud, Norton, Pottawatomie and Dickinson counties all passed such resolutions in opposition. The Sentinel reached out to commissioners from several of those counties for comment but received no response.

The Hutchinson News reports that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has said there is no plan to appropriate private land.

According to the News, during a call with agricultural journalists, Vilsack said, “There is no intent to take land away from farmers. The goal here is to create new opportunities.”

According to the News, Vilsack claimed the administration and the USDA want to incentivize farmers and ranchers to use “tools” that he has at the USDA to compensate and pay farmers for being good stewards of their land.

“(We want them to) embrace new opportunities and new ways,” he said. “None of it involves taking anyone’s land or using eminent domain.”

Of course, federal funds are often the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent,’ and once accepted, the federal government — not the state or individual accepting the funds — is ultimately in the driver’s seat.

Kansas delegation objects to “30 by 30”

Kelly’s “suggestions” stand in stark contrast to the response from the Kansas Senatorial delegation.

Sen. Jerry Moran said in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland protecting private property rights and not taking agricultural land out of production must be the first priority.

“Kansans are rightfully alarmed about possible implications for private property owners of any federal mandate to set aside vast swaths of land in response to this executive order,”  Moran said in the letter. “In addition to being troubled about diminishing private property rights, I am concerned taking farm and ranch land out of production will damage local and regional economies across Kansas. Agricultural and energy production is the most common use of private lands in Kansas, driving the state’s economy and providing jobs and economic opportunities in rural communities.”

Sen. Roger Marshall was more direct, sending a letter straight to Biden, and noting “Considering there is just under 900 million acres of agricultural land in the United States, I must assume that agriculture will be a target of your initiative.”

Marshall went on to note that farmers and ranchers live very close to the land and have an interest in ensuring conservation.

“Farmers and ranchers are the original conservationists and generational farming is on the forefront of every producer’s mind,” he wrote. “That means fathers and mothers want to leave the soil and water better than when they found it for their sons and daughters. This topic isn’t new – in Kansas, we’ve been discussing conservation since the Dustbowl.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation stopped short of outright opposition but did urge the administration to provide more information quickly.  AFBF President Zippy Duvall sent a letter saying, “The concerns of farmers and ranchers are escalating regarding the intent of the 30×30 goal, the definition of conservation, and the metrics for defining success, among other things.”

Meanwhile, KSN reports that both the AFBF and Kansas Farm Bureau have expressed serious concerns.

“… It’s important to note that the Biden administration is still developing the 30×30 proposal, but even so the idea of expanding government holdings at the expense of hardworking farmers and ranchers is unconscionable,” the AFBF statement read in part.

And KFB Senior Director for Advocacy Ryan Flickner told KSN, “Kansas is over 98-percent controlled in private hands, we’re not a state that thinks highly or is encouraged or incentivize by the federal or even state government coming and buying private land,” he said.  “Should there be any sort of goal or objective to add additional federal or state lands to the portfolio, Farm Bureau will adamantly oppose as we strongly support private property.”

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