New Jersey and Michigan are so vested in the Obama administrations Americas Great Outdoors initiative that each state has doubled up.
The Connecticut River is so vested in AGO that four New England states projects are devoted to a blueway along it.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is so vested in the initiative that he or a designee is calling AGO project leadsmany of them national wildlife refuge managersto check in.
The Secretary “is completely enthusiastic about it, says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service AGO coordinator Tamara McCandless, “to the point of having, for the first time I have ever seen in my career, direct conference calls with the project leaders at the field level. And he knows each and every one of the projects; he wants to hear about them; he knows who the project leads are at the field level. And he really wants to see project success in every state.
President Obama launched AGO in 2010 as a 21stcentury conservation partnership with the American people. The initiative is ramping up this year. The administrations aim, says McCandless, is to focus the public on conservation goals and recreation activities across the United States and to link those goals and activities with the First Ladys Lets Move! program and one of its subsets, Lets Move Outside!
AGO is an umbrella effort. The Service is directly involved in at least four of its facets:
- The FiftyState Report projects.
- An urban work group that encourages federal/state interagency coordination, leveraging of resources and improved communication/collaboration with local partners on new and existing urban green space, parks, river trails and public access.
- Five large landscape projects that support similar cooperation on landscapelevel conservation. The projects (and lead agency) are: Northern grasslands (Service); longleaf pine (Department of Defense); Southwest desert (Department of the Interior); Northeastern forest (USDAs Natural Resources Conservation Service); Crown of the Continent (U.S. Forest Service).
- A river initiative focusing on national blueways and river restoration/recreation.
Refuges have roles in all elements of AGO, but the Refuge Systems presence is most apparent in the FiftyState Reports 101 conservation projects (two per state; one in the District of Columbia). The Service is lead agency on 39 of the projects. Many have refuge connections. The Connecticut River, New Jersey and Michigan projects typify them.
The Connecticut River effort involves the states of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut. The projects lead is Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge manager Andrew French, who is engaging local governments, Friends and communities in the Connecticuts 7.2 millionacre watershed. Beyond establishing a national blueway along the river, McCandless says, the projects overarching goal is to achieve conservation objectives not only through outright land acquisition but also through easements, restoration, education and recreational access to the river.
“I think we know as scientists that were never going to restore or protect a river the size of the Connecticut without working up in the watersheds, where you are dealing with first, second, thirdorder streams, she says. “And when you get to that level, to protect those systems, you really are talking about complete community engagement.
Both of New Jerseys projects are designed to connect state and locally owned lands along a conservation corridor upstream in the watershed of coastal Barnegat Bay, and to enhance recreation in that corridor. The projects lead is Edwin B. Forsythe Refuge manager Virginia Rettig.
Both of Michigans projects endeavor to foster urban youth appreciation of the Detroit River and try to engage and interest a whole new generation of folks, and perhaps inspire them to look for jobs in the conservation/recreation/resource management arena, says McCandless. The city of Detroit and the National Park Service are among partners interested in the projects, which are led by Detroit River International Refuge manager John Hartig.
McCandless estimates the Service has invested $34 million in fiscal year 2012 toward the 39 projects, all from existing funding sources. “Theres no new money, she says, but that may change next year.
One overall AGO objective is to show tangible results this year, McCandless says. The White House Council on Environmental Quality is measuring success and is sending progress reports to the President.
AGO is a great opportunity for refuges to work across agencies and with the states, McCandless says. Its also a chance to leverage Refuge System conservation.
“Many of those projects are refuge priorities, she says. “Having a dual tag of refuge priority and Americas Great Outdoors priority only brings more attention and highlight to advancing those projects across the landscape.