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Midlands Voices: Voluntary programs are the key tools to promote Nebraska conservation
Midlands Voices

Midlands Voices: Voluntary programs are the key tools to promote Nebraska conservation

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This new specialty license plate features Nebraska’s state reptile. Revenue from the plate will help fund conservation.

We are writing in support of the 30-by-30 plan for conservation of American’s land and water, also referred to as “America the Beautiful.”

The Board of Trustees for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is committed to advancing conservation practices on private lands; Nebraska is, of course, a private lands state, and to fulfill this mission, we rely on the leadership of ranchers and farmers.

Many of our staff members, trustees, families and friends work in agriculture, and as Nebraskans, none of us are far removed from the farm or the ranch. TNC proudly works alongside private landowners, landowner-led conservation associations, agribusinesses, and Tribal, state and federal partners to provide conservation tools to landowners through voluntary programs. It is this type of collaboration that ultimately leads to success.

When a huge effort like America the Beautiful is announced, we believe skepticism is healthy. Conserving 30% of our lands and waters by 2030 is wildly ambitious. Does it mean that productive agricultural land is going to be yanked out of production, as some have speculated? None of us would support that. It would tank our economy and bankrupt our schools — not to mention changing our way of life and our culture. No one wants that to happen.

Fortunately, there are better ways for conservation to happen at a larger scale. Taken as written, America the Beautiful outlines locally led principles that honor private property rights and support voluntary conservation efforts.

We have seen this approach work well at The Nature Conservancy. Ranchers in the Sand Hills tell us they are pleased with the positive results of controlled burns on their operation’s bottom lines. TNC staff believe that ranching is the very reason Nebraska has healthy, intact grasslands to steward — not in spite of cattle, but because of them. Farmers enrolled in precision irrigation and soil health efforts led by TNC have saved time, water and money with the tools they’ve tested, always on a voluntary basis.

As pressure mounts to feed and fuel the world, one thing is certain — working lands can (and do) work for conservation. TNC’s science — and the research published by Nebraska universities — clearly reflects that. It is becoming clear that access to tools like more local weather stations, smart technologies, safe fire, grazing management tools — and crucially, compensation for these practices — will be at the heart of America the Beautiful.

TNC envisions a Nebraska where farmers and ranchers can thrive alongside iconic species. As the details of this initiative develop, we ask our fellow Nebraskans to keep an open mind. Voluntary programs to aid conservation, to expand hunting and fishing, and to sustain wildlife have the potential to help us to conserve the Nebraska we love together.

Dr. Anne Hubbard, board chair emeritus, and Dr. Jim Armitage, Dr. Richard Fruehling and Ron Schaefer wrote this essay on behalf of the executive committee of The Nature Conservancy’s Board of Trustees. The Nature Conservancy is a conservation organization and private landowner in Nebraska with more than 5,000 member-households.

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