It’s not every day a national director of a major land management agency says, “We want to hear what you have to say. Notetakers are stranding by, and the mic is open.”
Last Friday, March 2nd, at the White House Conference on Conservation, Outdoor Alliance was given just this opportunity. The Conference was a follow up to the 2009 White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors and an important milestone in the America’s Great Outdoors initiative. President Obama, along with Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, EPA Administrator Sheila Jackson Lee and other senior officials hosted the Conference.
The Administration extended Outdoor Alliance a very generous invitation and we showed up in force with executive directors Brady Robinson (Access Fund), Mark Singleton (American Whitewater), Mike Van Abel (International Mountain Bicycling Association) and Wade Blackwood (American Canoe Association), as well as longtime partners including American Mountain Guides Association director Betsy Winter and Western Spirit Cycling’s Ashley Korenblat. American Canoe Association’s Cate Huxtable, along with OA’s Policy Architect Adam Cramer and Grasstops Director Tom Flynn, rounded out the team.
In the Recreation Access breakout group, in front of the USDA Senior Advisor for Environment and Climate, the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and a room full of policy professionals from national sportsmens and recreation groups, Outdoor Alliance drew attention to our common ground and shared some of our core concerns with an influential and engaged audience.
Mike Van Able of IMBA started the session with a testimonial that highlighted the shared interests of hunters, anglers and the human powered recreation community. “You can replace the words ‘hunting’ and ‘fishing’ with ‘hiking,’ ‘mountain biking,’ and any other form of active recreation – so you can see just how similar our issues are,” Mike said. Concerns about access to high quality resources, encroachment on existing opportunities for recreation, and preserving experiences for future generations are the same, no matter if you are a hunter or one of the “new kids on the block” like mountain bikers and paddlers. Mike suggested that traditional interests and new forms of recreation could increase their level of cooperation. All of us have very similar concerns and are, after all, the collective antidote to things like obesity and further disconnection from nature in this country.
In the open comment period that followed, Outdoor Alliance, led by Grasstop Director Tom Flynn, raised another of our key concerns – adequate attention to winter Travel Management Planning. While the land management agencies, the Forest Service in particular, have extensive regulations for summer time use, their attention to management for multiple uses too often dries up as soon as the snow falls. We asked the listening policy makers to follow through on their commitment to partnership by addressing winter Travel Management in cooperation with OA and others.
Along with this welcome opportunity for dialogue with top policy makers, the Conference included insightful stories from across the nation and across the spectrum of conservation. But the most memorable part (and the reason the line to check in stretched around the block) was the President Obama’s address, which closed out the Conference. Adam Cramer was delighted with the President’s candor and commitment. "For me, the White House event confirmed that the President and his cabinet get it. They all understand in a fundamental way that our mountains, rivers, and forests provide a sense of place for all Americans, and that this sense of place is a big part of why we protect, enjoy and celebrate America's Great Outdoors. In the President's heartfelt remarks, Yellowstone was important not only for its natural splendor and historical significance, but because his mom and grandma took him there when he was a kid and was able to do the very same thing decades later for his daughters."
All of us were honored to attend the Conference, and left inspired to work with this administration and the broader national conservation community to achieve the goals of AGO – advancing conservation and recreation initiatives to reconnect Americans to the outdoors.
You can watch the President’s remarks here.