Experiencing 'America's Great Outdoors'

In all the hubbub about the federal budget, an important Obama Administration initiative slipped under most folks’ radar last week. In fact, just the other day a friend asked me “So what has Obama actually done for the environment lately?”  My answer: “Check out America’s Great Outdoors.”

At this point, you are probably thinking “JP, I know what ‘the great outdoors’ is – it is the network of vast open, wild spaces that you and your colleagues at The Wilderness Society have been protecting for more than 75 years.” And while you are right, I’m talking about President Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative.  And I’m guessing once you check it out you’ll find something in there for you, regardless of it you live in Manhattan or on a ranch out west. AGO (as it’s often called) seeks to broaden Americans’ understanding and appreciation of the countless wonderful places that make this country great, and inspire people to put down the iPad and turn off the TV for a bit… and get outside to enjoy some fresh air, and help protect these valuable resources for the next generation.

To be clear, America’s majestic vistas, serene wildlife refuges, city parks, and scenic rivers haven’t remained spared from backhoes and excavators by mistake.  For generations countless citizens have painstakingly advocated protecting our treasured natural places—and we now benefit from their efforts. In fact, conservation is as American as baseball and apple pie—it is part of the fabric of our culture, and what makes our country unique and special.  It is this American tradition of patriotic conservation that America’s Great Outdoors taps into as we look at the many challenges facing our nation (think: sprawl, energy development, and climate change).

For a Climate Guy like myself, I was thrilled to see climate change as one of AGO’s three main themes. Rather than putting climate into a separate box, it is woven throughout the report - as it should be.

Climate disruptions don’t pay attention to land designations and property ownership, which is why landscape-scale, climate-smart conservation is required if we are to keep our farms, ranches, parks and lakes resilient in a warming world.  The report’s Conserving and Restoring section is of special interest to those of us focusing on climate impacts to our communities, economy, and critters.

Specifically, the Report recommends that federal lands and waters be managed “to increase their resilience to climate change.” Can I get an AMEN?!

Critical programs ranging from NOAA’s Climate Service to DOI’s Landscape Conservation Cooperatives are called out as leading initiatives in our nation’s effort to understand and address climate disruptions on the ground. Other climate-smart strategies highlighted include creating and protecting wildlife migration corridors (so critters big and small can move to more suitable homes as climate change disturbs their traditional domiciles), and working at a landscape level to engage private property owners and coordinate various agencies in protecting our resources.
The report is a product of listening sessions and meetings held across the country, reflecting the diverse collection of interests and opinions upon which we thrive. But like anything else in life, we’ll only get out of AGO what we put into it. So check out the report and be on the lookout for fun and rewarding ways you can spend some time outside tapping into a truly American value: enjoying and enhancing the great outdoors.

(PS – don’t take my word for it – check out TWS’s Emily Diamond-Falk on ABC News talking about the program)

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