Thursday, February 17, 2011

President Announces Plans For America's Great Outdoors Initiative

Feb 16: President Barack Obama announced the Administration's action plan, under the America's Great Outdoors Initiative, to achieve lasting conservation of the outdoor spaces that power our nation's economy, shape our culture, and build our outdoor traditions. The initiative seeks to reinvigorate the country's approach to conservation and reconnect Americans, especially young people, with the lands and waters that are used for farming and ranching, hunting and fishing, and for families to spend quality time together. Recognizing that many of these places and resources are under intense pressure, the President established the America's Great Outdoors Initiative last April to work with the American people in developing a conservation and recreation agenda that makes sense for the 21st century.

    The new report released -- The America's Great Outdoors Report -- outlines ways in which the Federal government will help empower local communities "to accomplish their conservation and recreation priorities by recognizing that the best ideas come from outside of Washington." Last summer, senior administration officials held 51 listening sessions across the country to gather input from Americans about the outdoor places and activities that they value most. These sessions drew more than 10,000 participants and more than 105,000 written comments, shaping an action plan that, based on local initiatives and support, when implemented will result in:
  • Accessible parks or green spaces for our children.
  • A new generation of great urban parks and community green spaces.
  • Newly-restored river restorations and recreational "blueways" that power economic revitalization in communities.
  • Stronger support for farmers, ranchers, and private landowners that help protect rural landscapes and provide access for recreation.
  • The reinvestment of revenues from oil and gas extraction into the permanent protection of parks, open spaces, wildlife habitat, and access for recreational activities.
  • A 21st century conservation ethic that builds on local ideas and solutions for environmental stewardship and connects to our historic, cultural, and natural heritage.
    In a speech at the White House, the President said in part, "To help set aside land for conservation and to promote recreation, we're proposing to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, for only the third time in our history.  (Applause.)  And we're intending to pay for it with existing oil and gas revenues, because our attitude is if you take something out of the Earth, you have a responsibility to give a little bit back to the Earth.  

    "So these are the right steps to take for our environment.  But they're also the right steps to take for our country.  They help spur the economy.  They create jobs by putting more Americans back to work in tourism and recreation.  They help inspire a new generation of scientists to learn how the world works. They help Americans stay healthier by making it easier to spend time outside.  And they'll help carry forth our legacy as a people who don't just make decisions based on short-term gains of any one group but on what's best for the entire nation in the long run. So working together to protect the environment we share, lifting up the best ideas wherever we find them, preserving the great outdoors for our children and for their children -- that's our responsibility."
    Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said, "With children spending half as much time outside as their parents did, and with many Americans living in urban areas without safe access to green space, connecting to the outdoors is more important than ever for the economic and physical health of our communities. Through the America's Great Outdoors Initiative, this administration will work together with communities to ensure clean and accessible lands and waters, thriving outdoor cultures and economies, and healthy and active youth." 

    Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said, "The America's Great Outdoors Initiative is born out of a conversation with the American people about what matters most to them about the places where they live, work, and play. It's about practical, common-sense ideas from the American people on how our natural, cultural, and historic resources can help us be a more competitive, stronger, and healthier nation. Together, we are adapting our conservation strategies to meet the challenges of today and empowering communities to protect and preserve our working lands and natural landscapes for generations to come."

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "America's farmlands and woodlands help fuel our economy and create jobs across the rural areas of our country. This plan seeks to work in partnership with landowners, conservation groups, states and others to conserve our working lands and our public lands and to reconnect Americans – especially our nation's youth – with opportunities to stay active. This blueprint was developed with input from the over 100,000 Americans in all corners of our country who joined our national listening sessions and who contributed their ideas online."

    U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, "This initiative is an effort to reconnect Americans with the valuable resources all around them and shape a 21st century plan for protecting our great outdoors. It is important that our waters, lands and greenspaces are brought back into our daily lives. President Obama's initiative will help make these critical resources a national focus once again, and involve people of every background in conservation of the places that we hold dear."

    Specifically, the report calls for fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, establishing a 21st century Conservation Service Corps to engage young Americans in public lands and water restoration, and extending the deduction for conservation easement donations on private lands beyond 2011, among other measures.
    Access a release on the Initiative (click here). Access the complete speech by the President (click here). Access a video of the President's speech (click here). Access the America's Great Outdoors Initiative website for the complete report and background (click here).
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