Wilderness & America’s Great Outdoors

Last week (16 February), US President Obama spoke about the America’s Great Outdoors initiative to a small group in person (100 people, invite only) and the nation at large via live web stream. Our colleague Gary Tabor, Director of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, was one of the selected invitees!

Essentially the launch of President Obama’s new national conservation agenda, the President’s remarks reviewed the process and input gathered through the Great Outdoors initiative — a series of community meetings and information sessions lead by the Secretaries of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality over the past year.

A brief excerpt from the speech that relates particularly to WILD’s work…

So, in my first months of office I signed a public lands bill — that many of you worked on — that designated two million acres of wilderness, over 1,000 miles of wild and scenic rivers and three national parks. (Applause.) I’m very proud of that. And some of the members of Congress who worked with us on that are here today, and we’re very proud of them.

But at a time when America’s open spaces are controlled by a patchwork of groups, from government to land trusts to private citizens, it’s clear that conservation in the 21st century is going to take more than just what we can do here in Washington. Just like the story of the Great Smoky Mountains, meeting the new test of environmental stewardship means finding the best ideas at the grassroots level. It means helping states, communities and non-profits protect their own resources. And it means figuring out how the federal government can be a better partner in those efforts.

A few things that jump out from this inspiring speech…..

* A renewed commitment at the federal level to wilderness protection (yay!)

* A recognition of the many different ways in which land can (and should) be protected to make up the natural mosaic of our country. The Nature Needs Half vision in action — protecting land and water with the primary value of nature through federal, state and local governments, grassroots groups and nonprofits, private citizens and public corporations.

* The President’s speech as a whole celebrates individuals protecting lands that they love. Our work with the US Land Management Agencies and through the North American Wilderness agreement (between US, Canada and Mexico), is specifically geared toward defining private lands with wilderness characteristics and establishing protected area classifications and recognition for natural areas protected by individuals, families or other private entities.

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