Healthy Oceans Blog

NOAA Hosts Second Public Listening Session on Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful Initiative

On May 6, 2021, the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality released a report on Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful. The report calls for a decade-long effort to advance locally led and voluntary conservation and restoration in public, private, and tribal lands and waters.

These efforts will build on NOAA’s five decades of conserving and connecting people to ecosystems, species, and special places in our nation’s marine and Great Lakes environments. Guided by the eight core principles in the report, NOAA is now seeking input from stakeholders on how NOAA should, using existing legal authorities, conserve and restore America’s ocean, coasts and Great Lakes. NOAA will reach out and work with all stakeholders, including regional fishery management councils and sanctuary advisory committees, to identify areas or networks of areas where their fisheries management or resource management efforts would support long-term conservation goals.

The report focuses on eight core principles:

Principle 1: Pursue a Collaborative and Inclusive Approach to Conservation

Principle 2: Conserve America’s Lands and Waters for the Benefit of All People

Principle 3: Support Locally Led and Locally Designed Conservation Efforts

Principle 4: Honor Tribal Sovereignty and Support the Priorities of Tribal Nations

Principle 5: Pursue Conservation and Restoration Approaches that Create Jobs and Support Healthy Communities

Principle 6: Honor Private Property Rights and Support the Voluntary Stewardship Efforts of Private Landowners and Fishers

Principle 7: Use Science as a Guide

Principle 8: Build on Existing Tools and Strategies with an Emphasis on Flexibility and Adaptive Approaches

They asked four main questions and allowed stakeholders to give any comments/questions they wanted to advance this conversation. The four questions were:

  • What baseline conservation actions are currently effective?
  • What criteria should we use to identify and select areas for additional conservation and restoration?
  • Are there new areas – new areas or enhancements of existing areas – that meet these criteria?
  • How should we support and collaborate with stakeholders?

NOAA is in the process of setting up an online platform to collect input on these four questions and expressed that more listening sessions and engagement opportunities are in the works.

If you are interested in learning more and submitting comments please explore the following resources:

Our Director of Advocacy, Jenna Valente, offered comment during the September 13 listening session. Review her soundbite here:

Thank you for hosting this listening session and offering an opportunity for people to share their thoughts on the Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful Initiative. My name is Jenna Valente, and I am the Director of Advocacy for the Healthy Ocean Coalition, which is a national grassroots community of ocean lovers working to protect and restore ocean health by advocating for solutions that center the ocean and people as part of the fight against climate change. The Healthy Ocean Coalition was founded on the idea that national visions for conservation must be informed and shaped by the local voices who live, work, fish, recreate, and steward the lands and waters. We are heartened to see a commitment to inclusivity, engagement, and local knowledge in meeting the goals outlined in the initiative. Today, I’m asking that all federal agencies involved in this effort, including NOAA, take these two immediate steps for conserving 30 percent of our lands, waters, and ocean by 2030: First, develop and share a time-based road map for steps to engage communities and people over the next 12-months. While I appreciate the opportunity to speak during today’s listening session, being able to connect to this session using both a phone and computer – and during work hours – is a privilege that’s not lost on me. The initial report drew from the engagement of many diverse people and institutions, but if this effort is to reflect America as a whole, a critical component is a public-facing engagement process. This can be done through building relationships with and engaging a variety of existing institutions, local experts, tribal governments, and regional ocean partnerships like the Northeast Regional Ocean Council, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, and the West Coast Ocean Alliance. We urge you to also hold virtual (and if it’s ever safe to gather in groups again, in-person) strategy sessions about the initiative's 8 principles for conservation and collaboration throughout this process. Additionally, we recognize that existing governance structures are not accessible to many people in our country. We need equitable approaches to engage and include people in this plan. This is an opportunity for the federal government to reinvest and rectify centuries of inequitable conservation practices. Second, we are asking that, along with voluntary and working conservation opportunities, the initiative is inclusive of the need for highly protected places. Science shows that highly and fully protected marine areas are more effective at protecting biodiversity and enhancing ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change than any other action we can take. We've lost a lot of time - and the biodiversity and climate crises are only worsening - making it even more imperative that we get this right – now. This effort is meant to be inclusive, and specifically looks for collaborative and voluntary conservation opportunities. We applaud this effort and want to see the Administration prioritize opportunities along the spectrum of conservation, including highly protected places. This initiative can, and should be, inclusive of a wide-range of levels of conservation, not prioritize one over the other. The science is clear, highly and fully protected marine areas produce the most benefits for biodiversity and climate. Thank you for launching the America the Beautiful Initiative, we look forward to continuing to engage in the process, and I appreciate this opportunity to speak today.

— Jenna Valente, Director of Advocacy, Healthy Ocean Coalition