How ‘conserve’ is defined has drastic ramifications


Jerry G. Schickedanz

The Biden administration issued Executive Order 14008 Sec. 216 of January 27, 2021 and follow-up report “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” to pursue “a goal of conserving at least 30% of our lands and waters by 2030”. This goal was also supported by New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in her issuance of Executive Order 2021-052 setting a “goal to have at least 30% of all land in New Mexico conserved by 2030, with Additional 20% designated as climate stabilization zones.

What does this mean in terms of acres of land in New Mexico and Doña Ana County? In raw numbers, there are approximately 77 million acres in New Mexico and to retain 30% would require designating 2.3 million acres statewide to achieve that goal. In Doña Ana County with 2.4 million acres, meeting the 30% target would set aside 720,000 acres in the county.

What does it mean to conserve? The term “retain” was not defined in executive orders at the national or state level. Scientific disciplines and their work have integrated and advanced the conservation of natural resources. There are as many definitions of conservation as there are disciplines related to natural resources. At its core, conservation aims to ensure sustainable and improved efficiency of the resources on which humanity must rely for its survival and well-being. Science has continually played a fundamental role in the applied practice of conservation across the spectrum of non-renewable and renewable resources. Several terms (protection, preservation and sustainability) are often used interchangeably with conservation and promote confusion.

At the turn of the 20th century, Gifford Pinchot, a forester, and John Muir, a naturalist, had starkly opposing views on how to manage America’s wild lands. These two national leaders developed the opposing factions, conservationists and preservationists. Muir promoted preservation and Pinchot advocated for conservation. Pinchot’s view of managed conservation meant that lands owned by the federal government could not only be used for recreational purposes by the general public, but could also be used, responsibly, by industry for exploitation. logging, mining and many other purposes including scientific research. Environmentalists seek to regulate human use, while environmentalists seek to eliminate human impacts altogether.

Due to the confusion of definitions and lack of government defined boundaries, all sides of the issue have stepped in to use their definition of conservation. The environmental community advocates for the protection of land from development and one group proclaims that any public land open to cattle grazing should not be included. The America the Beautiful report supports the inclusion of “working lands” that are compatible with the long-term health and sustainability of natural systems. Private landowners suspect that the inclusion of their land will lead to excessive government regulations and restrictions on their land. Some groups advocate including only natural areas with no outdoor uses.

Using protectionist criteria data, only 12% of land in the United States is considered protected and in New Mexico 6.2%. Although Doña Ana County has restricted public access to 1.25 million acres or 51%, which includes private land, federal wilderness, the White Sands Missile Range, San Andres Wildlife Refuge , the Jornada and Chihuahuan Desert Research Ranches, one could argue that Doña Ana County has contributed enough.

Simply put, conservation aims at the good use of nature, while preservation aims at the protection of nature from use. While retaining the land with use, it is still productive and contributing to the economy, while protection will lock the land for economic purposes.

I don’t know where you are on this 30×30 question, but your voice must be heard.

Jerry G. Schickedanz is Dean Emeritus of the Linebery Policy Center and former Dean of the NMSU College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.


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