America’s Great Outdoors will reconnect kids to nature

Feb 16, 2011

Diversity in our public lands is key to success

SEATTLE, WASH. - Washington 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 a stop in Seattle, listening to everyday citizens’ best ideas about conservation as they prepared to draft this report.

America’s Great Outdoors can give underserved youth a better chance of having meaningful contact with our parks, forests and wilderness areas,” said Saul Weisberg, executive director of the North Cascades Institute. “By connecting the next generation with nature, they will learn more about their public lands, each other and themselves.”

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.

“It is foolish in a time of belt tightening to neglect our forests, rivers and deserts 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 rivers protects our communities now and pays long-term dividends with billions and billions of dollars. 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 cornerstone of the report is protecting our shared forests and parks and connecting people – especially our youth – to nature. The lands that make up the North Cascades, accessible by a quick 30 minute drive from Seattle, are great for connecting kids to nature.  Every year, people come from all over the world to hike, camp, raft and fish in the North Cascades.  Perhaps more importantly, urban youth visit their natural “backyard” and have the opportunity to experience nature.  By protecting our cherished 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. 

Washington is home to some of America’s most iconic public lands including Mt. Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park. We should leave the next generation healthier and better connected to the natural world. We can give our kids the opportunity to learn about and experience our treasured wild lands.