Unlike recent one-sided dialogue at a Neosho County Commission meeting, Chanute High School students have much more expansive and contrasting views of the federal government’s 30x30 conservation initiative.
At their April 25 meeting, commissioners seemed easily persuaded by a presentation delivered by rural Neosho County resident Tara Dillow, who framed the conservation effort as nothing more than a land grab by the federal government, spearheaded by an agenda pushed by radical left-wing politicians and scientists.
The initiative is designed to conserve 30 percent of the nation’s land and 30 percent of its freshwater areas by 2030. Only 12 percent of US land is designated as permanently protected, leaving some to question where the remaining 18 percent will be derived. Other details of the initiative remain scant, such as the type of land that will be designated and how the campaign will be funded.
Commissioners only briefly commented on the presentation by Dillow and fellow speaker Angel Cushing. They said that they planned to direct the county’s legal counsel to draw up a resolution in opposition to the initiative.
Erie-based Peck Brothers Cattle Company was also represented at the meeting.
“We are just getting ready to send our cattle to the Flint Hills for grazing this summer,” said owner Cindy Peck, “so we would really hate to see that taken away from us. I would strongly recommend this resolution.”
Commission Chair Gail Klaassen indicated that the county needed to get out in front of the matter before it was too late.
“We don’t know — it could just happen tomorrow,” Klaassen said. “Putting it into place doesn’t really affect anything at this moment; it’s things that will happen in the future. If we have (a resolution) in place, it prevents things from happening. But if we don’t have a resolution in place, then things can happen very quickly, and I think you’ve seen that.”
Peck echoed Dillow’s land-grab sentiments.
“We don’t want our land taken away from us,” Peck said.
Klaassen noted that Neosho County leans heavily on its agriculture industry.
“We do have to protect all of our land,” she said.
While he indicated he was on board with the resolution, 2nd District Commissioner Nic Galemore told The Tribune that it could be easily overturned by a simple majority vote.
The Tribune recently spoke with Chanute High School debate and forensic students regarding the initiative. Having previously encountered the initiative while researching the protection of US water resources as a debate topic, most had background knowledge of the subject matter. Of 14 students present, only six believed the initiative was a good plan.
Junior Anita Staker said she thought the plan would benefit Neosho County residents with the potential creation of new federal jobs, while also placing its workers in a safer environment as the plan looks to reduce carbon emission output.
Staker also believes that the initiative is polarizing and has become political in nature.
“I think we need to set aside our Democratic vs Republican views,” she said. “This will be benefiting the community and also affect future generations who will be inheriting this land. I think people have become almost hysterical over thinking that this is about the government wanting to take our land.”
Staker acknowledged that it is possible for the federal government to seize land through eminent domain, referring to that part of the initiative as a “dilemma.”
“As long as the government compensates financially for the land it takes, it does have a right to take it,” she said. “But that has not been clearly stated in (Biden’s) executive order.”
“There are no plans right now for the federal government to consolidate or acquire any amount of land,” said sophomore Andrew Woods, a state debate champion. “But if the federal government wants to protect 30 percent, they’re probably going to have to do something similar (to eminent domain).”
While he said it has merit, Woods feels the timeframe to achieve it is too pressing, and that the focus should be on federally-funded environmental projects smaller in scope.
“There’s more productive things we can be doing in the short-term,” he said.
Woods also believes that the government has its hands full protecting the land it currently owns, which includes large swaths in Nevada dedicated to the housing of federal testing sites.
“The idea of protecting land and water is good and we should do it,” Woods said. “But the 30x30 initiative simply doesn’t work.”
Woods added that the US government needs to align itself with international 30x30 efforts in order for the plan to come to fruition.
“Thirty percent of the US (land area) is (equivalent) to 0.5 percent of the entire world,” Woods said. “If we could cooperate with any of these international bodies (NATO, EU, UN) on climate policy that would be much more efficient and better for the climate.”
While the plan is supported by 50 countries, senior Emma Atherton said it does not significantly impact international climate change.
“There’s definitely more important things the United States can be focusing on than trying to conserve more land,” she said, noting that the government should instead focus its efforts on furthering green energy initiatives.
Freshman Kaleigh Watts also does not believe the initiative to be sound.
“I feel that farming would suffer,” she said. “While I support climate change (initiatives), I don’t feel that this plan will necessarily work, because it will kind of be desecrating some different industries.”
Freshman Abel Kennedy said he believes the plan amounted to government overreach. Kennedy explained that the government would be more than doubling in size the 620 million acres of land it currently owns.
Junior Brock Godinez said he supports the initiative and his top concern is irreversible damage taking place on US land.
“When I was researching this, what surprised me was that only 12 percent of our land is largely in its natural state,” he said. “I support it because I want to protect our land in its natural state.”
Additionally, 13 of the 14 students believed that climate change was currently taking place, and that it’s an issue that merits urgent action. Nearly all of the students rated the efforts of federal, state and local governments in addressing climate change as abysmal.
Students also delved into the ultimate purpose of the initiative, questioning whether its exact focus is climate change, ecological impacts and/or biodiversity.