President Obama signs memorandum

President Barack Obama signs a presidential memorandum at the America's Great Outdoors Conference at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. Photo by Samantha Appleton.

Invoking the conservation legacy of Teddy Roosevelt, President Barack Obama today launched a new initiative to conserve American wilderness and encourage more Americans to get outdoors.

The program, called America’s Great Outdoors, seeks to reevaluate U.S. conservation policy, beginning with a series of sessions around the country to gather input from people and organizations with an interest in the country’s wilderness. Obama spoke about the new program at the “Conference on the Great Outdoors” at the Interior Department, the first of these charrettes.

“Even in times of crisis, we’re called to take the long view to preserve our national heritage — because in doing so we fulfill one of the responsibilities that falls to all of us as Americans, and as inhabitants of this same small planet,” Obama said. “And that is the responsibility that we are rising to meet today.”

He said the initiative will attempt to involve private industry, local communities, Native American leaders and volunteers in protecting outdoor areas. As of yet, the policy details of the initiative are vague, laying out a broad set of goals for coming years.

Among those he mentioned in his remarks:

  • Building on successful conservation efforts being spearheaded outside of Washington -– by local and state governments, by tribes, and by private groups -– to “write a new chapter in the protection of rivers, wildlife habitats, historic sites, and the great landscapes of our country.”
  • Help farmers, ranchers, property owners who want to protect their lands for their children and their grandchildren.
  • Help families spend more time outdoors, building on Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative to encourage young people to hike and bike and get outside more often.
  • Foster a new generation of community and urban parks.

The program will be spearheaded by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and White House Council on Environmental Quality chair Nancy Sutley.

Today’s conference brought together ranchers and farmers, sportsmen and women, state and local government leaders, tribal leaders, public lands experts, conservationists, youth leaders, business representatives and others who view the outdoors as integral to their communities.

In his speech, Obama said he was inspired by the Teddy Roosevelt, who encouraged the “life of strenuous endeavor” — Roosevelt’s words — and enacted the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows succeeding presidents to protect landmarks and wilderness.

“And from that sense of commitment sprang five national parks, 18 national monuments, 51 federal bird reservations, and 150 national forests,” Obama said. ” From that commitment sprang an effort to save the great Redwoods of California and the Petrified Forest of Arizona, the great bird rocks of the Aleutian Islands and the Tongass of Alaska.  From that commitment sprang a breathtaking legacy of conservation that still enhances our lives.”

Obama’s initiative seeks to counter two alarming trends. The Interior Department calculates that American children are spending half the time outside as their parents did. Meanwhile, two million acres of open space are gobbled up each year by development. Add to that a down economy and a federal budget way in the red, and the effort can seem, in dark moments, a bit quixotic — if very noble. Then again, we’re talking about the man who pushed through health care reform, a seemingly impossible task.

The program has set up a website (that looks like it was put together in a rush) with a page for posting ideas at: http://ideas.usda.gov/ago/ideas.nsf/ Another page allows visitors to post stories from their outdoor adventures. Of course if you’ve got a really good one, with photos or video to dress it up, we’d encourage you to snub the feds and send it to STRAY instead

About The Author

Chris Emery is a mutt. Half woodsman, half geek. He spends as much time outdoors as possible. On rainy days, he writes and publishes STRAY.

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