Sustainability: America’s Great Outdoors
It is amazing what can happen when a diverse group of more than 200 people gets together to voice concerns on a shared passion: preserving our great outdoors.
On July 16, Grand Junction was the venue for one of a series of listening sessions hosted by America’s Great Outdoors, a cross pollination of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency and the Council on Environmental Quality.
You might think a mixture of off-road enthusiasts, anglers and environmentalists is a recipe for certain disaster, but there were no strident voices, only pleas for collaboration and cooperation to protect the places we all love.
President Barack Obama established America’s Great Outdoor Initiative to reconnect Americans, especially kids, with the outdoors, build on local efforts to conserve our outdoor resources and restore and protect lands and waters for future generations through scientific management practice.
Before breaking out into five groups, participants watched a video and learned a little about the current situation.
I was surprised to find out the U.S. Forest Service administers only 20 percent of our forested land. Another 57 percent of our forests are privately owned. This is just one reason that any comprehensive conservation efforts must include both public and private lands.
Priorities of the initiative are conservation, recreation and reconnecting people to the outdoors.
To explore these topics, five groups of about 50 people each made comments on challenges, what works, the federal role and what tools are needed to protect and promote the outdoors.
My group was full of faces unfamiliar to me, and it was a testimony to the diversity of the group that I did not know anyone. This was not the same old choir, and participants even traveled from well beyond the Grand Valley.
There were teachers, elected officials, ranchers, and members of many organizations representing ATVs, fishing, horses, outfitters, land trusts and numerous environmental concerns. Each person was given multiple opportunities to speak and everyone was considerate and respectful.
In my group, there seemed to be a consensus regarding the need for this disparate set of interests to collaborate and coordinate to effectively fight for our outdoors. We need to get a variety of groups together to define our great resources and determine what needs protection.
Outdoor education was of primary concern, especially when it comes to the younger generation. Several participants feared an emphasis on technology has created a major disconnect between youth and the great outdoors, fostering a lack of champions for natural resources in future generations.
Participants from several organizations shared effective examples of outdoor education. The importance of outdoor education is not limited to kids, however, as ignorance on the subject is widespread. It is also important for adults to learn about the value of intact ecosystems.
Great Outdoors Colorado, wilderness designations, stakeholders protecting land and developing legislation, public/private partnerships, Youth Conservation Corps, land trusts and a variety of outdoor education programs were cited as examples of what works.
During the section about the federal role, some advocated for a larger role, others a smaller role and many agreed we just need to enforce the laws already in place.
Additional federal funds would be well spent, putting more people in place in various agencies connected with the outdoors to increase community collaboration and education.
The group acknowledged that allowing multiple uses of our land is a challenge and it takes special effort just to balance conservation with recreation. We also gave a pat on the back to ranchers and farmers for being the original conservationists.
I was able to speak with friends who had been in different breakout groups and learned many of the same themes were echoed in other groups.
Eventually, the initiative will create a report for the president and public based on these meetings.
To share your comments with the initiative or learn more about the process, go to http://www.doi.gov/americasgreatoutdoors/.