America’s Great Outdoors: Seattle Explores History, Future of Conservation

NWF’s Pacific Regional Center Joins Conversation on Recreation, Connecting to Nature

07-23-2010 // Cathy Curley, Senior Operations Manager, NWF Pacific Regional Center

Oregon Coast

On July 1st, National Wildlife Federation's Pacific Regional Center joined the conversation about conservation.  Two fellow employees and I attended an America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) listening session, one of many hosted nationwide by the Obama Administration to discuss and develop a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda to reconnect Americans with the outdoors.

Sculpting America's conservation agenda

Various agencies are involved, including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency.  The Seattle session was held at an area high school.  More than 400 people packed the auditorium in anticipation of this opportunity to share, in a personal and direct way, what Americans would like to see in the nation’s conservation agenda.

The session opened with an introduction by Jon Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service, who explained that the administration’s conservation agenda will rely in part on local ideas gathered during the AGO listening tour. President Obama expects that these multi-agency sessions will result in a report delivered to him by November.  Director Jarvis spoke of National Park Service history and about America’s pursuit of happiness on public lands and outdoor spaces.

Particularly appealing were Director Jarvis’ references to the success stories embedded here in the Northwest; successful partnerships formed, communities reached and public lands utilized and shared.  He illustrated this by mentioning our successful Mountains to Sound Greenway as well as the historical development of Seattle’s park system by the Olmsted family.  In 1903, this family of landscape architects provided a plan for Seattle’s parks and public recreation areas; their efforts are considered a basis for America’s modern park system. 

Joining the conversation

The listening session turned to Jay Jensen, a deputy undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Jensen’s time at the microphone was of keen interest to me because he spoke specifically about connecting people with nature.

Jay explained that this listening session aims to get the public’s help in providing conservation solutions, and is an opportunity to reconnect people to our land and the great outdoors. The deputy undersecretary then asked participants to disperse to different rooms to meet with top agency officials in small groups. Activists and concerned citizens from across the region discussed outdoors issues that matter to them—restoring the clean water act for rivers and streams,  access to public lands and the permit process,  concerns about a lack of funding for our parks and open spaces, and in my case, connecting kids to the outdoors.

As the Obama Administration considers the future of American conservation, enacting policies that protect the outdoors and reconnect people to nature must be a top priority. Integral to this protection is ensuring Americans, in particular children, are out there, reconnecting to nature. Studies show outdoor time helps children stay healthier, enhances their imaginations and attention spans, decreases aggression, and boosts classroom performance. There is a fundamental belief that by getting them out onto the land children will have transformative experiences which create an interest in and connection to the land, ultimately leading to greater stewardship.

More to come

It is my sincere hope that the remainder of the listening sessions will help to provide America’s leaders with smarter federal coordination; we must spend time crafting a new conservation agenda that doesn’t just reach out to our states, cities and municipalities, but reaches in—providing support, solutions, resources and guidance. The outdoor enthusiasts who shared their unique and often passionate stories at this listening session were fortunate to be able to do so.

Look for future conversations across the country, and share your voice and opinions at www.nwf.org/greatoutdoors.

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