By Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
President Biden recognizes that in the midst of a biodiversity and climate crisis, our focus on conservation is essential to the health of people and the planet. From restoring wetlands and building new parks to reconnecting wildlife habitat and protecting more than 26 million acres of lands and waters, conservation efforts are accelerating across the country to the benefit of families and communities everywhere.
In 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration made exciting progress to deliver on President Biden’s ambitious conservation agenda launched on January 27, 2021. In honor of this anniversary, I am excited to share the third annual report on President Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative, a decade-long, locally-led campaign to protect, conserve, and restore the lands and waters on which we all depend, and that bind us together as a country.
Much of this work is being made possible by historic levels of funding for conservation through President Biden’s Investing in America agenda. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is delivering $1.4 billion for ecosystem restoration, aquatic connectivity, invasive species control, availability of native seeds for restoration, and much more. The President’s Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate investment in history, has also been instrumental in driving the progress made on expanding urban tree cover, restoring our public lands for wildlife and recreation, and using nature-based solutions to bolster climate resilience in coastal communities.
For example, USDA’s Urban and Community Forestry Program is funding projects to plant and maintain trees across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. Territories and Tribal Nations. I saw this conservation progress firsthand when I visited North Carolina late last year. While I was there, we celebrated an award of more than $1 million to the City of Charlotte for tree cover that will help lower temperatures and improve air quality in neighborhoods that have suffered from historic underinvestment, including in green spaces. And as we announced a grand total of $1 billion in awards for communities nationwide, Secretary Vilsack and I joined the community of Cedar Rapids, Iowa to hear how this funding would help reduce heat in neighborhoods by restoring a vital tree canopy two-thirds of which was destroyed during extreme wind storms in 2020.
Not only does this program – like much of our conservation work – promote increased access to nature and boost climate resilience, it also advances environmental justice, including for communities that have been left behind for far too long.
As we reflect on the third year of the America the Beautiful initiative, we remain committed to the belief that everyone should have access to the benefits of nature; that every community’s contributions to the stewardship of our lands and waters should be supported, encouraged, and celebrated; and that the work we do to conserve our resources should honor and reflect all of this nation’s stories, cultures, and traditions.
Last spring, we were proud to host the first White House Conservation in Action Summit at the Department of the Interior, where we announced two new national monuments and progress on a new marine sanctuary. We also heard the President articulate his ambitious and inclusive vision for conservation, celebrate our nation’s extraordinary conservation accomplishments under his Administration, and challenge us to do all we can to continue to support, accelerate, and implement locally-led, collaborative conservation.
In November, I visited a local conservation project near Tucson, Arizona where the community and federal partners are working to realize the President’s vision for collaborative conservation by harnessing the power of nature to sustain ecosystems and groundwater supplies in the desert southwest. The project, powered by our America the Beautiful Challenge grant, is driven by a community committed to protecting nature not just for future generations, but for the health and resilience of people today. Last year we announced over $141 million in America the Beautiful Challenge grant awards to 74 projects across 46 states, three U.S. Territories, and 21 Tribal and Native Nations that are helping communities make their conservation visions a reality.
From protecting forests to launching a new climate jobs workforce, the enormous strides we have made together over the past year make me and my colleagues in the Biden-Harris Administration confident and optimistic about our collective ability to achieve the ambitious conservation goals President Biden has challenged us to pursue. I encourage you to read the report and envision ways you and your community can advance locally-led conservation.
As the President noted during the Conservation in Action Summit, “There is nothing beyond our capacity if we work together.” We look forward to continuing our country’s proud conservation efforts as we work to keep America beautiful and build a better future for all.