Gov. Ricketts Hosts Supporters From Around The Country To Bash Biden Conservation Goals

April 22, 2022, 4:37 p.m. ·

Governor Pete Ricketts speaks to a room full of supporters from around the country at the Graduate Hotel ballroom in Lincoln.jpeg
Governor Pete Ricketts speaks to a room full of supporters of the "Stop the 30x30 Summit"

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts took center stage at the Graduate Hotel in Lincoln as he addressed a packed ballroom of people in suits, boots, leather jackets and 10-gallon hats. He delivered the keynote speech for the “Stop the 30x30 Summit.”

The conference gathered opponents to the Biden Administration’s 30x30 or “America the Beautiful” plan, which aims to conserve 30% of the nation’s waters and land by the year 2030.

The summit is effectively a version of anti-30X30 town halls the governor initiated last summer where he raised suspicions of federal overreach via permanent land easement programs and environmental regulation.  

A conservation easement is a voluntary contract between landowners and a conservation trust that permanently signs away rights to develop certain, privately-owned lands for conservation purposes, usually in exchange for tax deductions equal to the value of the donation.

Scott McIvor stands wearing a ten-gallon hat, Walrus mustache and a patterned, button-down search.jpeg
Scott McIvor (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

“I believe that nobody knows what’s going to happen 100 or 200 years from now and that at some point somebody should have a chance to go back and take a look at that and say, ‘Is that still the best use for my land?’” said Ricketts.

Other speakers for the paid event include Colorado Rep.Lauren Boebert, who co-authored legislation that would compel the government to drop its ambitious goal.

“The 30x30 program that's being pushed right now under this authoritarian regime is not the answer,” said Boebert. “To lock up 30% of our land and water by 2030 is absolutely extreme and I'm going to do whatever I can to put a stop to that.”

The message found a receptive audience at the summit, as landowners, analysts and politicians from across the country gathered to bash the initiative, some paying as much as $125 for the opportunity.

Scott McIvor is a 5th generation rancher from Texas. He says his father gave control over parts of his land in a conservation easement agreement in 1997, a decision he lived to regret.

“Before he died, he saw the downfall of it, but once you sign that paper, it's gone,” said McIvor. “We live on it, and we pay the taxes, but their interpretation of what we do on the land, it's their power. That's the power they have over us.”

Specifically, McIvor’s has qualms over the conservancy’s grazing regulations. He actually supports conservation easements, just not permanent ones.

“30 years would be great,” said McIvor. “Do you think 1950 the same issues are prevalent to for today? No.”

Rancher Debbie Baciglupi (right) and Political Analyst Nancy Geehan sit the Graduate Hotel's main lobby
Rancher Debbie Baciglupi (right) and Political Analyst Nancy Geehan (left) (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News}

Debbie Baciglupi is a fifth generation rancher from California. In recent years she’s grown distrustful of federal intentions.

“Where, where do we draw the line? What is the end game? And when I see going to these conferences, the end game is not what we're being fed. You know, in the news, it's not it's much, much bigger than that,”  she said.

Baciglupi actually describes herself as “pro-government” but says burdensome regulations, attacks from environmentalist groups and lack of details from the Biden Administration on how will achieve its goals has eroded trust.

Biden administration officials – as well as text within the plan- says the conservation program is voluntary and is not taking land away from property owners, like Ricketts has suggested.

Baciglupi isn’t convinced.

“That's what they say all the time,” she said.

Not everyone present was in support of Rickett’s message.

Aaron Weiss "engages" with an attendee of the "Stop 30x30 Summit" wearing a grey coat, and light blue dress shirt with a messenger bag slung across his right soldier. He has greying stubble and square glasses
Aaron Weiss talks with an attendee of the "Stop 30x30 Summit" (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

Aaron Weiss is the Deputy Director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation and advocacy organization based in Colorado.

He says Ricketts and the sponsor of the conference, the Texas-based American Stewards of Liberty, are misrepresenting the facts.

“All they have to argue against 30x30, is misstating statistics and fear mongering by shouting things like stop the land grab when there is literally nothing in any of the 30x30 resolutions or proposals that suggests it's a ‘land grab’.”

Still, Weiss says the Biden Administration does deserve some blame for not being more specific in its plans, especially what defines “conservation”. He said that lack of information is paving the way for Governor Ricketts and others to fill in the gaps with fear and disinformation.

“It's a punching bag, because there isn't that definition,” said Weiss. He’s says the Department of Interior is actively working on a conservation atlas that should will put an end to such questions.

In the meantime however, if the packed ballroom was any indication, the Ricketts and the American Stewards’ message is gaining traction well beyond Nebraska’s borders.

When Ricketts finished his keynote speech, he was met by a standing ovation.