The Great Outdoors

President Obama recently launched the Great Outdoors Initiative, a plan that aims to conserve land while encouraging Americans to get outside and relish nature.

Savannah city hallThe program is a bottom-up initiative to have the input of local Americans into a national America’s Great Outdoors plan to be launched later this year.  It is an effort by the Environmental Protection Agency, White House Council on Environmental Quality and the departments of Agriculture and Interior.  The first phase of the initiative involves listening sessions across the country, where communities can air grievances and offer ideas for the action plan.

Group meetingThe first of these listening sessions occurred in early June in Missoula, Montana, and drew a crowd of over 300 people.  The state of Montana was the perfect place to start due to its recent success preserving land in north-western Montana’s “Crown of the Continent”, an excellent example of successful conservation collaboration within local communities.  According to the Missoulian, the discussion focussed on how to replicate successful conservation models in urban areas as well as the role of the federal government in local conservation efforts.  Locals expressed that, with over 80 percent of Americans living in urban areas, it is vital that partnerships are forged across the country and that land conservation ideas from big cities are not “forced down the throats of rural residents”.

park ranger looking through binocularsAccording to MSNBC, Obama believes that conservation is an integral part of economic growth, and is confident that his new program will also create jobs.  Indeed, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar challenged the Interior bureaus to increase youth employment opportunities and unveiled the Bureau of Reclamation Youth Conservation Program.  The program will help youth learn and contribute to Reclamation goals of delivering water for agriculture and municipal users, providing renewable energy for America’s future, focusing on 21st Century Water Management and a commitment to Native American Tribes.

The listening sessions will culminate in a multi-agency report that will be delivered to President Obama in November 2010, after which final policy decisions will be made.

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