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Dispatches from Washington, DC

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New York, NY - April 8, 2010 - OSI’s CEO Kim Elliman joined the historic White House conference last week that will help chart national land conservation and parks priorities for years to come.

With a diverse group of leaders from the farming, outdoors and urban parks sectors all in attendance at the two-day White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors, President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum launching the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The Obama administration intends to hear from state and local leaders to help guide federal land protection initiatives, and OSI’s inclusion is indicative of its role as a leader in the conservation community.

Because of its experience conserving more than 100,000 acres in New York State and underwriting the protection of 1.7 million additional acres from Maine to Georgia, OSI is seen as a nationally respected institution that can help set federal agendas. OSI also oversees the Outdoor Americas Campaign, a program that urges federal leaders to fully fund the federal government’s primary resource for land protection, the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In a statement issued by the Department of the Interior, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (whose Assistant Secretary, Tom Strickland, was interviewed by OSI last fall) indicated that the panel discussion was only the beginning, and that a series of town hall meetings and listening sessions across the country would start a national dialogue on a 21st century conservation agenda.

“We are bringing together ranchers, farmers and forest landowners, sportsmen and women, state and local government leaders, tribal leaders, public-lands experts, conservationists, youth leaders, business representatives, and others to learn about some of the smart, creative ways communities are conserving outdoor spaces,” Salazar said.

With so many Americans living in urban spaces, conference speakers emphasized the need to preserve the natural world in a way that also creates urban parks, waterfronts and other open spaces—reconnecting Americans of all walks of life to the outdoors.

In his remarks at the conference, President Obama praised the 1,600 private land trusts working to protect land in the United States. Through the Great Outdoors Initiative, he said, the federal government will act as responsible stewards of tax dollars, building on already-established local conservation efforts.

The initiative will also help create incentives for landowners who want to preserve their lands, foster a new generation of community and urban parks, and motivate families to spend more time outside—via First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program, the president said.

As the effects of climate change and urban sprawl create even more urgency for a national initiative on land protection, the White House conference is a sign not only of momentum for conservation funding on Capitol Hill, (see OSI Newsletter) but the current administration’s understanding of conservation’s vital role in ecological and economic issues alike.

Indeed, President Obama remarked that conservation is not contrary to economic growth, but in fact is an essential ingredient for the country’s financial well-being.

While enriching the legacy of conservation established by past presidents like Theodore Roosevelt, Obama said that his administration will draw upon the conservation community’s brightest thinkers as it strives to meet the modern challenges of a changing climate, increased pollution and a growing population. 


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