Obama’s Green Team learns from Americans about conservation

Bill Meadows.

As Americans begin to head outdoors for summer hiking, fishing and picnicking, the Obama administration headed to Montana for the first “listening sessions” as part of America’s Great Outdoors. The administration will be holding listening sessions across the United States in the coming months to learn about successful local conservation partnerships. The knowledge gained will inform a November report that will help implement a national America’s Great Outdoors initiative.

America’s Great Outdoors kicked off with a conference with over 500 ranchers, private landowners, state and local recreation planners, youth organizers, conservationists and recreationists who care about protecting and connecting our great outdoors. President Obama, top administration officials and dozens of interested citizens spoke at the event, highlighting the importance of conservation in the 21st century, and displaying unity about one of our most beloved national treasures: our public lands.

America’s Great Outdoors is a pivotal opportunity to build conservation successes, in Montana and across the United States. The Wilderness Society has been encouraging the administration to focus America’s Great Outdoors on protecting, connecting and restoring our public lands. With growing pressure on our lands -- from vandalism to risky gas development -- this could be one of our last opportunities to leave future generations a lasting natural legacy.

It is not hard to guess why the Obama administration chose Montana as their first listening session: The Crown of the Continent is a premier example of successful conservation collaboration within local communities. For years, ranchers and landowners, recreationists, timber interests, conservationists and business leaders have been working together to secure protections and sound stewardship for the various spectacular areas that comprise “the Crown.” Through public-and-private partnerships, Montanans are helping to protect this treasured land that provides clean drinking water, healthy air, working lands and a variety of recreation activities to the communities surrounding it.

As America’s Great Outdoors continues, the Obama administration should look for other conservation opportunities that connect, protect and restore our critical public lands, such as the San Gabriel Mountains in California. Less than an hour from downtown Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Mountains are part of the Angeles National Forest which provides L.A. County with more than one-third of its clean drinking water and more than 70 percent of its open space. The Angeles National Forest is one of the most heavily used public forests in the country, and millions of annual visitors flock here to fish, hunt, hike, camp, picnic, swim and enjoy the scenic views and wildlife. The San Gabriel range is Southern California’s most notable geographic landmark, and its proximity to this urban region truly qualifies it as the area’s “backyard,” providing one of the closest areas for city residents to access the outdoors.

As the Obama administration travels across the United States learning about local conservation successes, they will hear from local communities about the importance of growing our shared public lands and protecting our wild places. The administration will hear that we need to connect our youth to our public lands to foster long-term health for generations to come, and build lasting recreation infrastructure on our lands. And they will see that protecting, connecting and restoring our lands is a win for the environment and a win for our pocket books, as it provides jobs that boost local economies.

And as the listening sessions develop throughout the summer in Montana and beyond, the Obama administration will gain a better understanding of how to create a successful America’s Great Outdoors. The Crown of the Continent, and those who have worked to protect, connect, and restore it, will have helped turn this initiative into a legacy that will leave future generations better connected to the natural world.