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Report: More Wide Open Spaces – and More People to Enjoy Them

February 18, 2011

SEATTLE - Preserving nature, and getting more people outside to enjoy it. Those are the goals of America's Great Outdoors Initiative, based on public meetings held across the country last year, including here in Washington.

The new report suggests more funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, money from offshore oil and gas leases that is used to acquire land and help states create parks. Joanna Grist, executive director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, says her group is pleased with that recommendation.

"If our forefathers had not thought long-term, we wouldn't have the lands we have today. Recession is certainly very important in the short term, but 50 and 100 years from now we're going to be very grateful that we protected these properties. They're critical to preserving the quality of life and the economy in these communities."

Grist says it's ironic that on Wednesday a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives could have eliminated the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but it survived the challenge. Its detractors say federal agencies have a maintenance backlog on the lands they manage now, and don't need more land.

The initiative is subtitled "A Promise to Future Generations," and a major focus is on getting young people away from computers long enough to appreciate outdoor activity. Saul Weisberg is executive director of the North Cascades Institute, where young people go to experience wilderness - some for the first time. He thinks the recommendations will help reconnect people and the land.

"It's the American dream; it's who we are. From back when settlers were first coming to this country, people were changed by this landscape, and kids still can feel that, in places where they're seeing the natural world in a fairly natural state."

America's Great Outdoors Initiative also suggests creating more parks in urban areas, establishing a Conservation Service Corps and protecting rivers and other water sources. The initiative does not require congressional approval, but President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar now begin their work with members of Congress to get funding for the recommendations.

The report is online at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA