America’s Great Outdoors could reconnect kids to nature

Feb 16, 2011

Protecting and restoring public lands is also key priority

LOS ANGELES - California conservationists and youth advocates applauded the release of the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) report, a conservation initiative aimed at reconnecting Americans to nature.  The report has been nearly a year in the making; President Obama established AGO last April to support local efforts to conserve outdoor spaces.  Administration officials traveled across the country, including Los Angeles, listening to everyday citizens’ best ideas about conservation as they prepared to draft this report.

“America’s kids need to get outdoors and experience all that our San Gabriel Mountains have to offer,” said Charles Thomas, a board member at Outward Bound Adventures in Pasadena, California.  “America’s Great Outdoors is the perfect recipe for connecting our urban youth with wilderness, themselves, their families and their communities, while protecting our shared backyard.”

The report, “America’s Great Outdoors: A Promise to Future Generations,” reflects what Americans care about: protecting our lands and waters for healthy, economically strong communities now and for future generations. Working with local communities and using all available tools, such as the Antiquities Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), AGO will protect the places that define our natural and recreational legacy. AGO provides funding for hugely successful programs that connect our young people to nature through jobs and education and provide critical technical assistance to private working lands. Many needed and overwhelmingly supported programs are under threat, and Congress should continue to fund them, for America’s great outdoors is our common ground.

The Wilderness Society welcomes the following recommendations from the report:

  • Establishing a 21st century Conservation Service Corps: Reconnecting our young people to our public, private and working lands promotes a new generation of conservation stewards, and boosts local economies by providing jobs that partner a healthy economy with a healthy environment.
  • Provide full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund: LWCF fosters conservation on private lands that keep wildlife habitat intact, connect wild areas and protect lands around lakes, rivers and streams. Coordinating LWCF investments across shared landscape-scale conservation goals is an important step toward collaboration and alignment. 
  • Manage Federal lands with larger landscape context to conserve and restore ecosystems and increase their resiliency to climate change: Protecting, connecting and restoring our public lands helps protect clean water supplies and adapt to the effects of climate change. 
  • Establish AGO National Recreational Blueways Trails: Protecting our rivers at the local level will keep clean drinking water running throughout communities, while providing bountiful recreational opportunities. 
  • Establish an interagency AGO Council and non-governmental Partnership for AGO: Improved collaboration and cooperation amongst agencies is vital to achieve the conservation and recreation goals across large landscapes. Too often, agency plans and project implementation stop at agency borders, failing to coordinate with adjacent public land agencies or private landowners.

The cornerstone of the report is protecting our shared public lands and connecting people – especially our youth – to nature. The San Gabriel Mountains, located close to downtown Los Angeles, serves as a model for connecting kids to nature. Every year, urban youth visit their natural “backyard” to hike, swim, bike, picnic and experience nature.  By protecting our public lands and waters, America’s Great Outdoors will keep our young people healthy and active while ensuring that much needed recreation dollars enter the local economy.

Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains would benefit from implementing the recommendations in the AGO report. The San Gabriel Mountains are in need of restoration projects that improve fish and wildlife habitat and watersheds on damaged lands. Restoring the San Gabriels would not only create urban jobs, but would also improve Los Angeles’ backyard for generations to come.