The Next 100 Years of American Conservation

On April 19, Interior Secretary Jewell discussed the need for a course correction in the way America conserves our public lands, waters and wildlife.

What’s more, climate change — the most pressing issue of our time — threatens our land and water in existential ways, with longer, hotter fire seasons, record-breaking droughts, and more frequent and severe superstorms.

Some experts believe that we’re on the brink of the planet’s sixth mass extinction, with humans playing a major role in wiping out species at a rate 53 times greater than normal.

Make Parks Relevant to All Americans

First and foremost, we need to kick off the new century of American conservation by issuing a giant, open invitation to every American to visit their national parks and public lands.

For too long, our national parks have ignored important parts of our nation’s story. I’m proud of what this President has done to expand that story and make our national parks and public lands more relevant to all Americans.

People like César Chávez, Harriet Tubman and the Buffalo Soldiers now have their contributions to this country rightfully recognized through the national parks.

For over 100 years, since Congress passed the law in 1906, Presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect special places that, without action, might be lost forever to wrecking balls, looting, or other destructive activities.

I believe it’s one of the most important tools a President has to improve our country. It’s a tool that should not be used lightly or invoked without serious consideration of the impacts on current and future generations. President Obama has been judicious and thoughtful in his use of the Antiquities Act.

Zion National Park in Utah by Tom Morris (www.sharetheexperience.org).

Think Big: Landscape-level Planning

The second course correction we need to make is to think big. It’s simply not enough to protect a few isolated places.

What we need is smart planning, on a landscape-level, irrespective of manmade lines on a map.

We need to take a holistic look at an ecosystem — on land or in the ocean — to determine where it makes sense to develop, where it makes sense to protect the natural resources, and where we can accomplish both.

Sage grouse lek. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

Invest in America’s Public Lands

The third and final area where I believe we need to make a course correction is related to resources.

Congress can also do right by permanently authorizing and fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million as originally intended.

Congress took an important initial step to reauthorize the fund for three years, but it should not have been the battle it was, and it should not be seen as enough.

Isle Royal National Park in Michigan by Adam Jewell (www.sharetheexperience.org).

So today, we are putting America’s outdoor economy on equal footing with every other major economic sector. This fast-growing economic powerhouse deserves to be counted.

I’d like to thank the bipartisan group of Members in the House and Senate for championing this issue.

The Case for Public Lands

We’re celebrating the 100th birthday of the National Park Service this year — but there’s another, much less well known anniversary also happening in 2016. That’s the 40th anniversary of a landmark piece of legislation that provided a framework in which public lands could be managed in perpetuity for the benefit of present and future generations. It defined the Bureau of Land Management’s mission as one of multiple use and sustained yield — a new concept for the times, but which today stands as the agency’s greatest strength.

At a time when public lands face threats from land grabs to climate change, we can’t afford to turn our backs on them.

That won’t happen because I believe we are at the dawn of a new conservation era in America.

So, let us use this special year of the National Park Service’s Centennial to set a new path for conservation in the 21st century.

One that celebrates the diversity of public lands. One that relies on science and collaboration to chart a sustainable future for entire landscapes and ecosystems. One that invests the necessary resources into these incredible places. And one that welcomes all Americans to help care for our most treasured assets as though they were their own — because they are!

#parksforall

Protecting America’s Great Outdoors and Powering Our Future