Join The Conversation On America’s Great Outdoors

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by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

The Obama administration is developing a comprehensive, cutting-edge strategy for preserving America’s natural heritage, and the time is now for citizens to join this conversation about conservation!

On April 16, President Obama officially launched the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative at a White House conference for conservationists, farmers, ranchers, sportsmen, government leaders, public lands experts and business people. The initiative’s mission is “to promote and support innovative community-level efforts to conserve outdoor spaces and to reconnect Americans to the outdoors.”

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Four key questions frame the conversation:

  • What obstacles impede conservation, recreation, or getting people into the outdoors?
  • What are the most effective strategies to promote conservation and outdoor recreation?
  • How can the federal government help?
  • What additional tools and resources are needed?

Public comments are being collected in a variety of ways, through Monday, Sept. 6.

The America’s Great Outdoors website (www.doi.gov/americasgreatoutdoors) is the easiest place to make your voice heard. Post your ideas about ways Americans can reconnect with nature, or how we can better conserve our natural lands.

Vote for any of the hundreds of ideas – from broad policy changes to specific projects – that have already been posted by others. Possibilities include: full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund; guidelines for siting renewable energy projects on existing brownfields, rooftops and parking lots; enhancing the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program and Grasslands Reserve Program; making permanent the enhanced tax incentive for conservation easements; and much more.

The site includes message boards where you can start or join a conversation about the future of American conservation. There’s also a section where you can submit stories, photos and videos of conservation work.

The America’s Great Outdoors Initiative includes traditional public forums, like the many “Listening Sessions” held around the nation. Closest to New Jersey were sessions in Poughkeepsie, NY, on Aug. 6 and in Philadelphia on July 27. The sessions brought top administration officials (the Poughkeepsie session, for example, included U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes among others) out of the Beltway to hear firsthand from interested parties and those engaged in the work of conservation.

You can also host your own listening session! Though the Secretary of Agriculture isn’t likely to attend, you can gather input on the four key questions from others and submit your notes by e-mail or regular mail. Full details on how to do this are available at www.doi.gov/americasgreatoutdoors/Organizers-Toolkit.cfm.

Finally, you can simply e-mail your own comments to ago@ios.doi.gov.

Past White House conferences have led to a variety of major advances – from Medicare and Medicaid to ground-breaking protections for children that we now consider fundamental. With your help, the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative can be a major advance for conservation policy in the United States. Please join in and make your voice heard!

And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.


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