By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
At a conference hosted by the White House this past Friday, President Obama spoke to a crowd of elected officials, sportsmen, environmentalists, ranchers, small business owners, and others about the many values and benefits of conserving our lands, waters, and clean air. In particular, he noted that protecting special places on both public and private lands can create jobs and boost the economy:
We have to keep investing in the technology and manufacturing that helps us lead the world, but we’ve also got to protect the places that define who we are, that help shape our character and soul as a nation. Places that help attract visitors and create jobs, but that also give something to our kids that is irreplaceable. And all of us have a role to play.
The president outlined recent successes and highlights of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, such as the establishment of Fort Monroe as a national monument under the Antiquities Act, local collaboration to restore and protect Montana’s Crown of the Continent, and a new commitment to work with farmers to protect 1 million acres of grasslands and wetlands under the Conservation Reserve Program. He also touted recent steps he has taken to promote tourism to the U.S., like easing visa requirements so that more people can enjoy our American parks, lands, and heritage.
In his speech, Obama waxed poetic about the beauty of Hawai’i and his first visit to Yellowstone National Park as an 11-year old child, saying he “still remembers” traveling there and the awe he felt coming over a crest and seeing the park below. He invoked America’s great conservationists such as Teddy Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold when making the case for the protection of our lands and waters. However, he failed to mention climate change, which fundamentally threatens all the “places that define who we are.”
The president’s statement that conservation can support jobs and the economy is supported by both academic experts and the American public. In November, a group of 104 economists sent a letter to the president stating that “protected public lands are significant contributors to economic growth” and asked him to create jobs by establishing more parks and monuments. Also, a new poll from the Colorado College State of the Rockies project found that 91 percent of voters in six western states said that protected places are “an essential part” of their state’s economies.
As Obama put it last week:
The bottom line is this: there will always be people in this country who say we’ve gotta choose between clean air and clean water and a growing economy. Between doing right by our environment and putting people back to work. And I’m here to tell you that is a false choice.
Land conservation and environmental protection are under a broad assault in Congress. Republicans have launched campaigns to mine uranium around the Grand Canyon, throw open some of our last best places to drilling, and roll back presidential authorities to protect areas that local communities want to see protected.