Oregon and the 30x30 Conservation Initiative

Jefferson Wilderness (Joel Zak)

Oregon is known for its wild forests, rivers, estuaries, mountains, and deserts that stretch across the state. These landscapes purify the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and support the salmon and other wildlife that are part of our region’s identity. But Oregon’s communities and wildlife are facing unprecedented environmental challenges in the face of climate change and ongoing logging, grazing, and development. Given these impacts, the need to conserve the natural world for both people and wildlife has become even more apparent. 

Scientists worldwide agree that in order to stave off a biodiversity crisis and reverse global climate change, bold action towards conservation is needed: they recommend working to conserve 30% of the planet’s natural land and oceans by the year 2030. Governments, non-governmental organizations, and businesses have begun to work together to achieve this goal, known as the 30x30 initiative.  

Oregon Wild supports a bold 30 x 30 plan for the conservation of Oregon’s lands and waters because establishing meaningful protections for 30 percent of Oregon’s lands and waters aligns with our values and goals as an organization. Achieving the 30 x 30 vision will help us achieve our goals of helping native wildlife thrive, protecting special places, and defending and restoring forests and waters. It will help us mitigate for and adapt to the impacts of climate change, and improve the quality of life and contribute to the wellbeing of all Oregonians.  
The 30 x 30 goal is ambitious but achievable. Today, only 12% of U.S. lands are permanently protected in their natural condition (and 1% of oceans near the US). President Biden has committed to addressing this goal at a national level, and some states have taken legislative or administrative actions to identify lands and waters that can be part of an effort to protect 30 percent of lands and waters at the state level. It is time for Oregon to do the same. 

More information about national and global 30x30 initiatives can be found here: 
Campaign for Nature 
A Global Deal for Nature 
American Nature Campaign 

How we will work to advance this vision

  • Help to identify at least 30 percent of the state’s land to prioritize for conservation by 2030.
  • Advocate for state and federal actions in both the administrative and legislative arenas that can help Oregon achieve the 30 x 30 target.
  • Support tribal entities in advancing 30x30 goals that recognize tribal sovereignty and the rights of Indigenous people to govern their own lands, as well as retain or improve access to important cultural resources on public lands.

Public Lands Conservation in Oregon

To meet the goal of protecting 30 percent of lands and waters, conservation objectives must encompass both public and private lands. On private lands, a voluntary, incentives-based approach to conservation such as utilizing land trusts and conservation easements will be appropriate for interested landowners. The recent Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful Report released by the Department of Interior lays out a useful 30 by 30 framework for private lands. We support the goals of this framework, and encourage State leaders and agencies to use it to address the need to conserve land on this portion of Oregon’s landscape.  However, Oregon Wild’s vision for the 30x30 initiative offered here is focused on an appropriate framework for conservation of public lands in our state. On public lands, GAP 1 and GAP 2 level protections, as defined by USGS, are proven and effective metrics. 

What is GAP 1 and GAP 2?
The US Geological Survey (USGS) uses the GAP Status Code to measure management intent to protect biodiversity. By the USGS definition, “GAP Status Code 1, 2 and 3 areas are permanently protected from conversion to agriculture or development. Areas primarily managed for the conservation of nature are identified as GAP 1 or 2, while areas managed for multiple uses (including conservation) are GAP 3. Private lands or areas with no known protection mandate are depicted as GAP Status Code 4.” Under these definitions, areas that fall into GAP 1 and 2 status are those that have permanent protection from conversion to development, and have a management plan that dictates that the area is managed to maintain its natural state. In GAP 2 areas, these plans can allow management that degrades natural communities or suppresses natural disturbance. In general, areas that may meet these criteria are National Parks, wilderness areas, National Wildlife Refuges, State Parks, and Wild & Scenic River corridors. 

To achieve needed protections and ensure effective metrics are met, we offer the following recommendations for state and federal actions that also help Oregon Wild attain its strategic goals.

Read the letter we signed to Governor Brown about the initiative, and the associated opportunities we included. 

Recommended State Actions Towards 30x30 in Oregon: 

  • Permanently protect mature and old growth stands in Oregon’s State Forests. All remaining intact forests should be permanently protected on state lands as part of a critical Climate and Wildlife Reserve System across all public lands. Specifically, old forests in the Elliott State Forest should be protected permanently, as should designated Habitat Conservation Areas in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests Plans. 
  • Protect unique marine ecosystems within Oregon’s Territorial Sea.
    • Expand Marine Reserves and Marine protected areas
    • Expand protections for estuaries
    • Expand protections for rocky shorelines using Oregon’s Rocky Habitat Management Strategy. Recent designations under the strategy include a Marine Garden at Coquille Point, and a Marine Research Area at Cape Blanco.
  • Double the size of the State Scenic Waterway System. This creative tool can be helpful in protecting river corridors on non federal lands in Oregon. Oregon’s State Parks and Recreation Department would need to be empowered to drive conservation gains more than they have been in the past to truly be effective, or move the system to another state agency.
  • Prioritize wildlife crossings and other fish & wildlife connectivity investments. Protecting intact ecosystems for fish and wildlife is an important first step, but in order for these areas to truly help wildlife in a changing climate it is important that additional investments be made to reduce barriers to natural movement of fish & wildlife and improve habitat connectivity. These infrastructure projects are often needed as economic investments in rural communities, and ODFW should partner with NGOs and federal agencies to fund these investments. The Oregon Connectivity Assessment and Mapping Project (OCAMP) is another area the state can invest in to facilitate this work.
  • Expand and permanently protect Outstanding Resource Waters (​ORW). Outstanding Resource Waters are high quality waters that constitute an outstanding state resource due to their extraordinary water quality or ecological values, or where special protection is needed to maintain critical habitat areas. The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission has already voted to designate the North Fork Smith River, Crater Lake, and Waldo Lake as Outstanding Resource Waters in the state of Oregon, and should identify additional areas across the state for future designations. 

Recommended Federal Executive Actions Towards 30x30 in Oregon:

  • Implement a national rulemaking to protect all remaining mature and old growth forests on federal lands. Oregon’s remaining intact temperate rainforests store more carbon per acre than tropical rainforests, and old forests across the state include some of the least fire prone landscapes and protect numerous vulnerable species. They should be permanently protected as part of a climate and wildlife reserve system in the U.S. This action will both prevent emissions from future logging, and ensure that these critical carbon sinks remain in place. These protections should qualify for GAP 2 and should prohibit commercial natural resource extraction. Examples of old forest protections should include the following areas:
    • Strengthen Late Succession Reserve (LSR’s) protections under the Northwest Forest Plan and on western Bureau of Land Management forests. Currently, logging is still allowed in LSRs under the Northwest Forest Plan and BLM's 2016 Resource Management Plan. These protections should be strengthened to qualify for GAP 2 and should prohibit commercial natural resource extraction. 
    • Strengthen protections for all areas identified as habitat for Northern spotted owls (RA 32). The RA32 designation should be expanded to be more inclusive of all suitable nesting, roosting, foraging habitat to ensure spotted owls have a better chance of coexisting with barred owls, and protection under RA32 should be strengthened to qualify for GAP 2 and should prohibit commercial natural resource extraction. Currently, logging is still allowed where it should be excluded under RA32. 
    • Update Maps and Protect Late-Successional/Old-Growth (LSOG) Forests in Oregon’s Wallowa Whitman, Umatilla, Malheur, Ochoco, Deschutes, and Fremont-Winema National Forests. The largest trees in Oregon’s eastern forests store the vast majority of the landscape’s carbon, are the most resistant to the impacts of wildfire, and help counter other impacts of climate change such as drought and excessive heat. Areas with late successional and old growth trees should be protected, and these protections should be strengthened to qualify for GAP 2 and should prohibit commercial natural resource extraction.
  • Strengthen protections for Roadless Areas to meet Gap 2 qualifications. Roadless Areas already qualify for high levels of protections, but should be strengthened by developing management plans that allow them to meet at least GAP 2 level qualifications. 
  • Expand the Roadless Area Conservation Rule to include unroaded natural areas of 1,000 acres or more. Currently, roadless areas are defined as 5,000 acres or more. Adjusting this to 1,000 acres would better align with new science indicating that areas 1,000 acres and larger are ecologically significant and deserve greater protection. Further, the protections of the roadless rule should be extended to lands managed by the Department of Interior. These protections should qualify for GAP 2 and should prohibit commercial natural resource extraction.
  • Strengthen protections for BLM Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWCs). LWC areas are not designated protected areas like Wilderness Areas or Wilderness Study Areas, though they do exhibit the same uncommon intact ecosystems that are protected under other management frameworks. These protections should be strengthened to qualify for GAP 2 and should prohibit commercial natural resource extraction. These should also be expanded to include all roadless areas 1,000 acres and larger. 
  • Expand and strengthen protections for land within the Greater Sage-Grouse Comprehensive Conservation Strategy. Lands in Oregon that are covered by the conservation strategy should be set aside to ensure the conservation of the greater sage-grouse. These protections should be strengthened to qualify for GAP 2 and should prohibit commercial natural resource extraction. 
  • Designate New and/or Expand National Monuments.  The Antiquities Act authorizes the President to declare by public proclamation lands and structures with ric or scientific interest on federal lands as national monuments. These proclamations state the purposes for which lands are designated, as well as how they must be managed - meaning that strong language can ensure meeting GAP 1 or GAP 2 qualifications. Numerous locations and landscapes in Oregon should be considered as new national monuments, while some existing monuments such as the Cascade-Siskiyou should be expanded to meet scientific recommendations. 

Recommended Federal Legislative Actions Towards 30x30 in Oregon: 

  • Pass the River Democracy Act of 2021.  This includes designation of 4,700 miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers across Oregon with protected buffers covering 0.5 miles on each side of the waterways.  Oregon is home to approximately 110,994 miles of streams, of which 2,173 miles are designated as Wild & Scenic — only 2 percent of the total. Rivers offer critical habitat for fish and other wildlife, and protected riparian corridors can dramatically improve water quality and habitat connectivity across the state. 
  • Pass the Roadless Area Conservation Act. Oregon has nearly 2 million acres of inventoried Roadless areas, but these areas are still vulnerable until Congress passes legislation to ensure lasting protections. Roadless area protections should be strengthened to meet GAP 2 criteria, should be codified in law, and should prohibit commercial natural resource extraction.
  • Pass the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act. In addition to protecting core habitat and intact ecosystems for wildlife, policymakers must also prioritize supporting actions such as habitat connectivity that can help wildlife survive the impacts of habitat loss and climate change. 
  • Pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife needs additional funding and capacity to conserve at-risk, non-game species in Oregon. Without this additional funding and support, it will be challenging to meet the full potential benefits of additional land protections. 
  • Designate New and/or Expand Wilderness Areas. The following list gives examples of new or expanded wilderness areas that could help meet 30x30 goals, but is not exhaustive. Unroaded areas across the state should be considered as new wilderness to better connect habitat and wild places.
    • Expand protections for the Mount Hood region. Mount Hood has seen a dramatic increase in usage in recent years, and is in need of additional protections and new infrastructure to support the people and wildlife that depend on it. Additional Wilderness, Wild & Scenic, and National Recreation Area designations would advance these goals.
    • Expand protections for the Wild Rogue. The Rogue River is one of the state’s premier recreational destinations, attracting tens of thousands of visitors every year and contributing millions of dollars to the local economy. Congress has pending legislation for 60,000 acres of Wilderness protections that should be passed as soon as possible.
    • Expand protections for Oregon’s desert wilderness areas. The Greater Hart-Sheldon area and Owyhee Canyonlands offer some of the largest remaining intact areas of sagebrush steppe remaining in the West and require additional protections to enhance wildlife habitat and enable more outdoor recreation opportunities. 
    • Designate the Crater Lake Wilderness. Wilderness protections for the wildlife and recreational corridors that lead into and out of the park would benefit future generations of people and wildlife. This proposed 500,000 acres of protection would include the headwaters of numerous iconic Oregon rivers and thus benefit clean water as well.
    • Designate Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) as new Wilderness Areas. WSAs are places that have wilderness characteristics – in size, naturalness, and outstanding opportunities for recreation. The BLM manages 88 WSAs in Oregon and Washington, covering over 2.6 million acres. These areas are primarily located in southeast Oregon in the Prineville, Lakeview, Burns, and Vale Districts. These protections should be legislated and these areas should be designated as official Wilderness areas. 
    • Seek opportunities to expand existing wilderness areas to include adjacent lands with wilderness characteristics, including adjacent unroaded areas and lands acquired since the existing wilderness designations were made.
  • Designate New and/or Expand National Parks. 
    • Expand Crater Lake National Park. Currently, Crater Lake is Oregon’s only national park and should be expanded to ensure better protections for the valuable natural resources in that region.  
    • Consider designating new national parks in Oregon. There are incredibly beautiful and unique landscapes in Oregon that should be designated as new national parks. These include the areas in and around: 
      • The Newberry Crater National Monument, which covers over 54,000 acres of lakes, lava flows, and incredible geologic features in central Oregon, 
      • Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, which covers 652,480 acres, including the deepest river gorge in North America.


Joel Zak; Pete Springer