by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders
The 30X30 challenge aims to conserve at least 30 percent of all land and water throughout the world by 2030. This effort energizes several goals of the Ecocity Standards including the creation of compact urban form, the protection of biodiversity, and the rebalancing of the human and natural realms. Fortunately, some cities are accepting this challenge rather than relying on others to do the heavy lifting.
In December 2022, about 190 countries approved the 30X30 agreement and other biodiversity protection measures at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, Canada. This ambitious project responds to a rate of biodiversity loss that has not been seen since the extinction that wiped the dinosaurs off the face of the planet 65 million years ago. The Sixth Mass Extinction, caused by human recklessness, is not just bad news for other species since we are increasingly becoming aware of how much we depend on nature systems for food, water, and life itself.
About 17 percent of Earth’s land and eight percent of our oceans are now adequately protected. In addition to preservation, the Convention on Biological Diversity addresses other causes of biodiversity loss including overfishing, pollution, invasive species, hunting, mining, deforestation, climate change, and industrial farming practices such as fertilizer runoff and the use of pesticides and toxic chemicals. Humans cause all of these impacts. One study has estimated $700 billion per year would be needed to reverse the loss of biodiversity.
Due to our political divide, the United States is one of two countries worldwide that have not signed on to the Convention on Biological Diversity. However, in January 2021, the Biden administration launched a program known as America the Beautiful which calls for individuals, private organizations, public agencies, and governments at all levels to meet the 30X30 challenge.
According to the Nature American Campaign website, 30X30 goals have been adopted by 13 states, 55 tribes, over 340 non-profit organizations and businesses, a growing list of local governments, and the mayors of 70 cities in 29 states. In particular, the Nature American Campaign highlights the leadership of Lauren McLean, the Mayor of Boise, Idaho, for creating 30×30 goals aimed at nurturing resilient ecosystems and providing outdoor recreation opportunities.
Boise calls itself the City of Trees. French fur trappers gave the city its name, meaning wooded, for the forest of willows and cottonwoods that still make this rapidly-growing city of 240,000 people a green oasis in otherwise dry southern Idaho. Not surprisingly, Boise’s America the Beautiful effort includes the planting and protection of the tree canopy in Boise and the surrounding Treasure Valley. The City of Trees Challenge aims to plant 100,000 trees in Boise alone by 2030, one tree for each household in the city. With social equity in mind, Boise prioritizes plantings in neighborhoods with low urban tree cover and high summer temperatures.
Boise’s 30×30 program increases the management of urban parks for native habitat and uses the installation of pollinator gardens to teach residents about human dependence on natural systems. The city also accelerated efforts to restore and protect habitat on public open space along the Boise River and in the Boise Foothills like Hull’s Gulch Reserve where great horned owls, kestrels, and red fox are often spotted and where ambitious managements is needed to keep invasive species from displacing native plants.
Boise has preserved over 13,000 acres of wild land for both recreation and habitat through a combination of private donations and $20 million from levies passed in 2001 and 2015. In addition to Hull’s Gulch Reserve, Boise now manages 13 other nature reserves. The 734-acre Military Reserve, [750 Mountain Cove rd] which lies less than one mile east of the State Capitol Building, features the trailhead for Cottonwood Creek Trail which is part of the Ridge to Rivers Trail System, a network with over 190 miles of trails linking the mountainous Boise National Forest with the Boise Foothills and Boise River Greenbelt.
The Chief Eagle Eye Reserve surrounds Castle Rock, an outcropping near geothermal hot springs that merged with creeks to form bathing ponds used by several Native American tribes. Camel’s Back Reserve is on the backside of Camel’s Back Park, a greenspace packed with sleds and saucers after winter snowstorms. In its first America the Beautiful Progress Report, Boise again committed to approving an additional $10 million levy to continue preserving land and improving habitat.
Boise’s America the Beautiful campaign demonstrates that the international 30×30 challenge can be tackled at the city level as well as by state and federal governments, non-profit organizations, and individuals. It also illustrates how land preservation and restoration checks many boxes of the Ecocity Standards including culture, economy, education, well-being, water security, air quality, and climate action as well as biodiversity. Boise echoes these benefits by explaining how open space offers opportunities for health, recreation, and social connections, plus a deeper understanding of history, nature, and sense of place. The city also points out that these benefits energize the local economy by creating attractions for employers and employees, improving property values, buffering wildfires, and limiting the infrastructure costs caused by urban sprawl. Boise offers yet another example of a city that is thriving because it is green rather than despite being green.