Friday, President Obama and members of his Cabinet convened the White House Conference on Conservation to engage directly with conservation leaders from all 50 states to strengthen partnerships and identify next steps in advancing community-driven conservation and outdoor recreation initiatives that are building strong local economies and healthy lands, waters and wildlife across America.
Today's conference – titled Growing America's Outdoor Heritage and Economy – is part of the President's America's Great Outdoors initiative to establish a community-based, 21st century agenda for conservation, recreation, and reconnecting Americans to the outdoors. The event brought together hundreds of boaters, hunters, anglers, farmers, ranchers, land conservationists, historic preservationists, outdoor recreationists, small business owners, local governments, tribal leaders and other key stakeholders from around the nation to meet with Obama administration officials to discuss issues surrounding conservation in urban cities and rural communities.
The conference capped a week of conservation announcements, including:
Outdoor Education: On Monday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a new agreement to build programs that use national parks, national wildlife refuges and other public lands as 21st century classrooms – designed to benefit teachers, students and parents in rural America and urban classrooms alike. These programs will connect young Americans to the outdoors, improve environmental literacy, support experiential learning outside the classroom, and encourage conservation partnerships at the local level.
Driving Tourism & Recreation: On Tuesday, Secretary Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis released the 2010 Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation and Payroll Report. According to the report, visitors to the National Park System contributed more than $31 billion to local economies and supported 258,000 jobs in 2010, an increase of $689 million and 11,500 jobs over 2009.
Creating a New Water Trail System: On Wednesday, Secretary Salazar and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy announced the creation of a new National Water Trails System, a network that will increase access to water-based outdoor recreation, encourage community stewardship of local waterways, and promote tourism that fuels local economies across America. The Chattahoochee River Water Trail in Georgia was selected as the first to join the new system.
Conserving 1 Million Acres of Grasslands and Wetlands: Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced additional opportunities for producers to enroll land in the Conservation Reserve Program, including a total of 1 million acres in CRP initiatives to preserve grasslands and wetlands. USDA's CRP has a 25-year legacy of successfully protecting the nation's natural resources through voluntary participation, while providing significant economic and environmental benefits to rural communities across the United States. Under the Obama Administration, USDA has enrolled more than 8 million acres in CRP. The goal of the new CRP grasslands and wetlands initiative is to increase enrollment of environmentally sensitive land through targeted signups.
Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that they are recommending a conservation investment of approximately $30 million, or seventy percent of the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, in the nation's prairie pothole region. Long recognized as America's "duck factory," the significant investment will help protect habitat for the waterfowl and grassland species of the prairies.
Community Engagement: Today, EPA Administrator Jackson joined with federal and community partners to announce the first Urban Waters Ambassador of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership. The Partnership, an innovative federal union comprised of 11 agencies is an effort to help cities, particularly those that are underserved or economically distressed, connect with their waterways and work to improve them. The ambassador, serving the Los Angeles River location of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, is the first of seven to be sponsored by EPA, USDA and DOI for each of the Urban Waters locations across the country. Urban Waters Ambassadors will accelerate and coordinate on-the-ground projects that are critical to improving water quality and public health, and fostering community stewardship in urban watersheds.
Protecting and Restoring our Waterways and Fisheries: Through the National Fish Habitat Partnership, Federal agencies are helping state and local governments, landowners, and community groups to protect and restore our waterways and fisheries. This national effort has spawned regional and local partnerships. Today the Secretaries of Interior, Agriculture and Commerce committed to signing an agreement to promote collaborative, science-based conservation of our waterways and fisheries. The agreement ensures that Federal resources are effectively focused on locally supported conservation strategies developed by fish habitat partnerships.
"President Obama launched the America's Great Outdoors Initiative to create a 21st century conservation agenda with American people," said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. From investing billions of dollars to restoring places like the Everglades and the Great Lakes, to partnering with private landowners to conserve tens of millions of acres across the country, the Administration is making it a priority to protect and restore the places communities depend on."
"People across the country are coming together to protect and preserve the places that nurture our souls, provide opportunities for recreation, and power our economies," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who hosted the conference at the Interior Department. "We know that an investment in conservation now is a direct investment into our nation's economy – and one that will benefit generations to come. Today we heard from the people who are making a real difference in their communities and discussed how we can be better partners in fulfilling a shared vision for conservation in the 21st century."
"President Obama launched the America's Great Outdoors Initiative to foster a 21st century approach to conservation that is designed by and accomplished in partnership with the American people," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Protecting our natural resources creates jobs in rural communities, preserves habitat for fish and wildlife, and ensures that our nation's outdoor heritage will continue to be enjoyed by future generations."
"Expanding access to outdoor recreation and green spaces can benefit the health and economies of people and communities across the nation. That's especially true in our nation's cities where parks and waterfront areas can inject new life into urban communities," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "We're glad that agencies throughout the administration are bringing their expertise to this important initiative, and we're excited that the 21st century conservation strategy we're building continues to be shaped by meeting people where they live, and finding out how we serve their needs."
"The Corps of Engineers is proud to have been a part of this important White House conference on conservation,"said Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. "We look forward to continuing restoration efforts throughout the country. Our role in restoration and expanding opportunities for communities to participate in it is why we are here today. We look forward to strengthening our local partnerships and advancing job and volunteer opportunities related to conservation and outdoor recreation."
The conference featured panels and breakout sessions panels led by conservation leaders such as Kirk Bauer from Maryland, a disabled Vietnam Veteran who has been serving as Executive Director of Disabled Sports USA for more than thirty years, and Dave Koehler from California, who oversees conservation land transactions, river restoration, and environmental education as the Executive Director of the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust.