America’s Great Outdoors shows that conservation is by the people, for the people

Feb 16, 2011

Initiative lays out 21st century, bipartisan conservation

WASHINGTON - The Wilderness Society today welcomed America’s Great Outdoors’ (AGO) focus on community-based conservation initiatives that support economic stability and community health.  AGO reflects what the public—during more than 50 listening sessions across the United States—said they wanted: invest in protecting our natural and cultural resources so that the next generation has clean air, clean water, and places to experience nature.

“It is foolish in a time of belt tightening to neglect our forests and rivers that supply us with clean air and water for free,” said William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society, who was at the White House for President Obama’s speech today and at the unveiling of AGO last April. “I have seen firsthand how investing in our parks and waterways protects our communities now and pays long-term dividends.

“America’s Great Outdoors will ensure that families have places and opportunities to fish, picnic, and take vacations now and forever, whether they go to a city park or a national park.”

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 landowners. 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 Administration’s approach is refreshing because it allows for people from both urban and rural areas to tailor conservation and recreation initiatives to meet the specific needs of their communities,” continued Meadows. “For example, in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley, ranchers, timber interests, conservationists, and hunters have worked with the Forest Service to collaborate on a proposal that includes protecting communities and forests, as well as wildlife and recreational opportunities.”

America is primed to reap the economic benefits from the initiative.  Every year, millions of people enjoy the spectacular outdoor recreation opportunities these places offer. By protecting our public lands and waters, America’s Great Outdoors will boost local economies, creating tourism, recreation and restoration jobs.