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Read Between the Lines in the U.S. State of the Union for Conservation Opportunities


Lynn Scarlett

Co-Chief External Affairs Officer, The Nature Conservancy

January 2018

When we’re looking for conservation opportunities through policy these days, it often means we must read between the lines. That was the case with United States President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address last night.

On its face, there wasn’t a lot to get excited about in the speech when it comes to taking care of the country’s natural resources. You won’t find words like “environment,” “conservation,” “climate change” or even “parks” mentioned anywhere.

A heightened focus on those things is necessary, but at the same time the urgency of these issues means we don’t have the luxury of waiting for that to happen. We must look deeper.

Cedar Landing at Fishing Bay WIldlife Management Area in Maryland in United States, North America. Photo © Harold E. Malde
Cedar Landing at Fishing Bay WIldlife Management Area in Maryland in United States, North America. Photo © Harold E. Malde

Let’s try doing that with infrastructure.

Based on some early reactions to the president’s remarks, the ability of the U.S. Congress to gain enough support to fund and pass an infrastructure package is certainly not a given. But, if a new plan to improve America’s infrastructure does move forward, we must ensure that we seize that opportunity to advance nature-based solutions, such as reefs, dunes, floodplains and wetlands.

These solutions can provide some of the same benefits of traditional infrastructure, often at a lower cost and with additional benefits. For example, nature can help keep communities safer from storms and floods, clean our drinking water, and more—all while also providing wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities.

TNC is taking this message to lawmakers across the U.S. at all levels of government, from cities to states to Congress and the executive branch, and to other countries across the planet. We have the science and experience with natural infrastructure projects now to help make a strong case for making sure nature is considered as an effective, efficient solution to infrastructure challenges.

Now is the time to tap the full potential of nature to meet our planet’s needs. Last year was the costliest year ever for natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, and we need the most efficient and effective tools possible to protect our communities from future disasters and costs.

As with any infrastructure development, we should also be mindful of ways to lessen the impact of construction projects on our nation’s lands and waters, while still maintaining or even improving the speed and cost-efficiency of projects.

We’ve proven that is possible in our work on the ground, and we look forward to expanding that win-win approach even more broadly through upcoming policy opportunities on infrastructure.