America’s Great Outdoors can protect Minnesota’s lands and waters

Bird on Lake Wisconsin. Photo by Carl Johnson.

Approximately 650 people crowded into a concert hall at the University of Minnesota–Minneapolis to discuss conservation, recreation and how to reconnect Americans with the outdoors. Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ); and senior representatives from the United States Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Interior (DOI) attended the “listening session” as part of the Obama administration’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative. President Obama introduced this 21st century conservation initiative in April to help build a conservation agenda.

The listening session in Minneapolis focused heavily on water issues in the Upper Midwest, including the health of the Mississippi River watershed and Minnesota’s freshwater shores. Participants urged officials to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and to complete the National Trails System enjoyed by many in the region.

There are incredible protected areas in the Upper Midwest, such as Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, one of the first wilderness areas in the country; the St. Croix Wild and Scenic River, which was the first wild and scenic river; and the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge, one of the nation's largest and most visited refuges.

In a statement to the press, Leslie Jones, general counsel at The Wilderness Society, said, “By protecting our treasured lands and waters, we will ensure that young people have the opportunity to reconnect with their natural heritage today and for generations to come.”

Many participants focused on the need for stronger environmental education and urban access to outdoor recreational areas as a means of reconnecting people -- especially young people-- with nature.

In fact, a diverse group of young people aged 16-26 attended the youth session that took place at the Mill City Museum courtyard in downtown Minneapolis, a converted brownfield on the west bank of the Mississippi. Before the youth session, administration officials accompanied some of the high school-aged participants on a canoeing trip down the Mississippi River.

In Minnesota, more than 40 conservation groups came together to urge the administration to use America’s Great Outdoors as an opportunity to strengthen the capacity for federal, regional, state, and local agencies and private landowners to work collaboratively in order to protect national parks and wildlife, plants and rivers beyond park borders.

Photo: Bird on Lake Wisconsin. Photo by Carl Johnson.