Taking Action to Stop 30 x 30
By Governor Pete Ricketts
August 2, 2021
Governor’s official photo here.
A week after taking office, President Biden signed Executive Order 14008 that set a goal “of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.” This goal is also known as 30 x 30. The order parrots the policy goals of radical environmental groups. For years, environmental groups have sought government support for policies that are harmful to agriculture and a productive economy.
In Nebraska, 97% of our land is privately owned. Getting to 30% would require a major federal intervention that would trample on both the State of Nebraska’s sovereignty and individual property rights. Setting aside that much land and water for conservation would also devastate food production, our rural communities, and our state’s overall economy.
This summer, I’ve hosted town halls in Albion, Alliance, Broken Bow, Clay Center, Gordon, Norfolk, Pickrell, Wahoo, and York to raise awareness about the threat 30 x 30 poses to our way of life here in Nebraska.
These “Stop 30 x 30” town halls have drawn big crowds of Nebraskans who want to push back on 30 x 30 and protect private property rights. Here at the state level, we’re taking specific actions to guard against federal encroachment. In June, I hosted county commissioners and ag leaders at the Governor’s Residence to sign an executive order aimed at stopping the implementation of 30 x 30. The executive order does several things:
- Counties Speaking Out: The order tasks the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) to publish a list of local governments that have taken a position on 30 x 30. To date, over 50 counties in Nebraska have passed formal resolutions opposing the 30 x 30 plan. A list of these counties is available through NDA’s website at nda.nebraska.gov/30x30.
- Regulation Freeze: The order pauses any regulatory expansion to the definition of “endangered species” for 18 months. To block land development, environmentalists have tried to provide unnecessary protection to species such as the American burying beetle.
- Conservation Easement Oversight: With limited exceptions, the executive order bans the use of State agency discretionary resources to support projects involving perpetual conservation easements. It also requires approval for using State agency resources to fund conservation easements that are for a term of years.
- Notice to Federal Government: As directed by the executive order, NDA Director Steve Wellman has submitted a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture informing the USDA of its need to seek required approvals from local governments for any conservation easements in Nebraska related to federal programs.
- Local Control Trainings: The executive order directs the Property Assessment Division of the Nebraska Department of Revenue (NDOR) to hold trainings to ensure counties are aware of their rights in reviewing conservation easements.
This last item is especially important. Government agencies and land trusts have long sought to convince landholders to enter into conservation easements. These are contracts that restrict development on land for conservation purposes. When a landowner enters into an easement, they are surrendering a portion of their private property rights to a third party, which is typically the federal government or a land trust. In Nebraska, conservation easements are perpetual unless the contract specifies otherwise. Once the contract is signed, future generations cannot go back and reconsider whether land should remain under restriction.
It’s critical for Nebraskans to understand the tax consequences of conservation easements because they are expected to play a significant role in the Biden Administration’s quest for 30 x 30. At my direction, NDOR’s Property Assessment Division analyzed properties in Nebraska with Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) conservation easements. The NDOR analysis showed that these lands, on average, lost 59% of their taxable property value. As some land loses value and pays less in property taxes, everyone else in the area has to pay more in taxes to repair roads, fix bridges, and fund schools. Furthermore, the federal government doesn’t pay taxes on property it holds. In 2020, the Department of Interior made payments averaging $2.50 per acre in lieu of taxes—a bargain compared to what private landowners pay.
Starting in September, NDOR will host workshops to help local leaders understand the authority they have to review conservation easements, and, if necessary, to prevent them. County officials interested in attending a workshop can contact Ruth Sorensen at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the upcoming seminars.
Nebraskans should be prepared for an extended fight to stop 30 x 30 and protect our property rights. Environmental activists won’t be satisfied with 30%—they already have their sights set on more. In 2009, an environmental advocacy group—Nature Needs Half—was formed to lobby for conserving 50% of the earth. In 2016, E.O. Wilson’s book Half-Earth called for placing 50% of the earth’s land into a natural reserve off limits to humans. Judging from the Biden-Harris Administration’s own comments, they won’t be content with 30% either. According to President Biden’s Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, “Thirty percent isn’t the end. Thirty percent is the beginning. It’s setting a very strong foundation and we hope will build the momentum for longer-term conservation....”
The fight isn’t just in Washington, D.C. anymore. It’s right here in Nebraska in our own backyard. If you have questions about what your community can do to resist the 30 x 30 land grab, please email email@example.com or call 402-471-2244. If you live near David City, I invite you to join me on August 17, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. at the Butler County Fairgrounds for the next “Stop 30 x 30” town hall. It’s time to stand up to protect our land and waters, and push back against the radical and destructive goals of the Biden-Harris Administration. Working together, we can win this fight.