Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers share a special connection to the land and water they use to grow the food that feeds the world. They cultivate the rich soil of the Great Plains and graze cattle across the rolling Sandhills. Many families have worked the same land for generations. It’s their work ethic and stewardship that have helped make Nebraska number one in the nation for agricultural production per capita.
While private owners have successfully stewarded our land and water here in Nebraska, new leadership in the White House wants more federal control. On January 27th, President Joe Biden signed Executive Order 14008, which set a goal of conserving 30% of the nation’s land and waters by 2030. This requires restricting a land area the size of the State of Nebraska every year, each year, for the next nine years, or in other words a landmass twice the size of Texas by 2030.
This goal is especially radical given that the President has no constitutional authority to take action to conserve 30% of the land and water. This has raised a lot of questions about what the President intends to do. So far, he has not defined what he even means by “conservation.” Aside from vague platitudes, he has not revealed how he intends to implement his plan.
Here’s what we do know. 30 x 30 will not only have major consequences for private property rights, but also for the state’s tax base and economy. Unlike states in the western part of the country where there are already significant amounts of federally owned lands, 97% of land in Nebraska is privately owned. Federally owned land is not taxed, and restrictions will reduce our ability to develop it for agriculture, infrastructure, or businesses. If 30% of land in Nebraska is set aside for conservation, it will shift the property tax burden onto fewer farmers, ranchers, homeowners, and business owners. Right now, the federal government pays about $2.50 per acre on average in lieu of taxes on land it holds with conservation easements. Even if a land trust holds the conservation easement, the land’s potential taxable value is still greatly reduced. This leaves fewer taxpayers to pay for schools, roads, bridges, and other services.
As the Biden Administration continues to roll out their 30 x 30 plans, here's what you can do to protect yourself and make your voice heard.
First, understand the tools that the administration is likely to use to implement 30 x 30. Options include expanding national parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas. At the county level, it may also involve conservation easements. Conservation easements are contracts used to surrender a portion of property rights to a land trust or to the federal government for conservation purposes. Under Nebraska statute, conservation easements are permanent unless the contract specifies otherwise. Once a private landowner has entered into such a contract, the property rights will not be reunited, unless there is an expiration date set for the contract. Conservation easements set for a term of years may be appropriate, but I am 100% opposed to perpetual easements. Once you’ve entered into a permanent easement, you have forever surrendered control of your land to the land trust or federal government. Future generations will not have the flexibility to develop or manage the land differently. Given the consequences of conservation easements, Nebraska law authorizes county governments to review them, and to either approve or deny them. County boards can block an easement if it conflicts with the county’s comprehensive land-use plan.
Second, work to pass local resolutions to oppose 30 x 30. Over 20 counties in Nebraska have passed formal resolutions opposing the plan. I encourage you to check with your county officials to urge them to step up to oppose 30 x 30. These resolutions send a message that Nebraskans are going to stand up to protect our land and guard our freedoms.
Third, read federal contracts closely. Contracts with federal agencies, such as those offered by the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), are another way the federal government may try to expand its control. I recently spoke to a rancher in Banner County who had received a new CRP contract. It contained a new provision to protect the habitat of the swift fox. The rancher had never seen a swift fox on his property, and he called the USDA to ask what actions the added clause would require. The USDA couldn’t explain what the provision meant, so the rancher declined to sign. It’s important to read the fine print on any federal contract so that you don’t unknowingly agree to environmental regulations that curtail your property rights.
Fourth, be on the lookout in your area for new activity from federal agencies and their partners. Organizations, such as the Nebraska Land Trust, have endorsed President Biden’s 30 x 30 plan and may decide to work with them to implement it locally.
Finally, sign up at the Governor’s Office for updates at www.Governor.Nebraska.gov. You’ll get all the latest information on upcoming events and news about 30 x 30. Over the past week, I’ve been hosting “Stop 30 x 30” town halls across the state. In the coming weeks, I’ll be in Gordon and Pickrell with more to follow.
If you have questions about other steps you can take to protect your land, please contact me at email@example.com or 402-471-2244. Together, we can stop the 30 x 30 land grab from coming to the Good Life.