National Wildlife Refuge System

President Obama Announces America’s Great Outdoors Action Plan

photo of kayakers
One goal of the America’s Great Outdoors action plan announced by President Obama is to increase recreational opportunities on public lands. Here, kayakers paddle at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine.
Credit: Lamar Gore/USFWS

President Obama recently announced an America’s Great Outdoors action plan to achieve lasting conservation of the outdoor spaces that power the nation’s economy, shape its culture and build its outdoor traditions.

“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,” Obama said at a Feb. 16 White House ceremony. “The new test of environmental stewardship means finding the best ideas at the grassroots level. It means helping states, communities and nonprofits protect their own resources. And it means figuring out how the federal government can be a better partner in those efforts.”

In making the federal government a better partner, the initiative seeks to reinvigorate the nation’s approach to conservation and reconnect Americans, especially young people, with the lands and waters that are used for farming and ranching, hunting and fishing, and for families to spend quality time together.

Recognizing that many of these places and resources are disappearing and under intense pressure, the President established the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative last spring to work with the American people in developing a conservation and recreation agenda for the 21st century. The action plan released in February outlines ways in which the federal government will help empower local communities to accomplish their conservation and recreation priorities.

Last summer, the administration held 51 listening sessions nationwide to gather input from Americans about outdoor places and activities they value most. The sessions, which drew about 10,000 participants and 105,000 written comments, helped shape the action plan.

The plan is designed to result in: accessible parks or green spaces for children; new urban parks and community green spaces; river restorations and recreational “blueways” that power economic revitalization; stronger support for farmers, ranchers and private landowners who help protect rural landscapes and provide access for recreation; reinvestment of revenue from oil and gas extraction into the permanent protection of parks, open spaces, wildlife habitat and access for recreational activities; and a 21st century conservation ethic that builds on local ideas and solutions for environmental stewardship and connects to historic, cultural and natural heritage.

The America´s Great Outdoors Initiative is “about practical, common–sense ideas from the American people on how our natural, cultural and historic resources can help us be a more competitive, stronger and healthier nation,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. In conjunction with the initiative, in late February Salazar released the Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation draft vision document for public comment.

photo of angler
A proud angler displays his catch at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana.
Credit: Steve Hillebrand

Recommendations and actions in the America’s Great Outdoors action plan include:

  • Calling for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which directs federal revenue from oil and gas extraction for national, state and local conservation and recreation projects.

  • Establishing a 21st century Conservation Service Corps to engage young Americans in public lands and water restoration.

  • Extending the tax deduction for conservation easement donations on private lands beyond 2011.

  • Establishing an America’s Great Outdoors National Recreational Blueways Trails initiative to designate community–scale portions of rivers as recreational destinations that receive special attention for restoration and access.

  • Increasing outdoor recreational opportunities and access on public lands, including establishing a Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation.

  • Establishing an interagency America’s Great Outdoors Council to ensure federal agencies collaborate efficiently on conservation and recreation strategies.

  • Launching the Partnership for America’s Great Outdoors, a non–governmental body that will focus on forming strategic conservation partnerships across communities, businesses and governments.

  • Partnering with communities nationwide to establish and expand urban parks and green spaces and to build on large landscape conservation projects.

The full, 173-page action plan is at:

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Refuge Update March/April 2011

Last updated: April 12, 2011