"The true wealth of a country is reflected in the places it has set aside for wilderness and wildlife," said Mike Daulton, Senior Director of Government Relations, National Audubon Society. "We applaud President Obama for calling attention to the responsibility we all have to protect our great natural heritage for our children and grandchildren."
The America's Great Outdoors Conference focused on the importance of public lands as an economic engine. Federal and state public lands as well as local parks and outdoor recreation sites greatly enhance the quality of life for nearby communities, which attracts new residents, businesses and helps generate tourism-related jobs and revenues for large cities and small towns alike. As cited in the Department of the Interior's 2009 report, annually, "federal parks, refuges and monuments generate more than $24 billion in recreation and tourism."
Outdoor recreation, including bird watching, fishing, camping, climbing, hiking, cross country skiing, mountain biking and other activities, drives a total of $730 billion in annual economic activity, supporting 6.5 million jobs, or 1 of every 20 jobs in the U.S.
The White House Conference also delved into the importance connecting people with nature, a basic Audubon mission across the country. Access to natural areas reduces stress, mitigates obesity and enhances the quality of life for all Americans. The Audubon Medal was given to author Richard Louv for his insights on so-called Nature Deficit Disorder.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established by Congress nearly a half-century ago to reinvest revenues from the depletion of one natural resource (offshore oil and gas) into the conservation of land and development of recreation areas. Across the country, this has resulted in the protection of some of America's most prized national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, National Conservation Lands, and beaches, battlefields, historic areas, and Native American sites.
Despite its remarkable legacy, funding for LWCF has never approached the grand vision Congress had in 1965. Authorized at $900 million annually, Congress has only allocated that full amount of money toward land conservation twice in its history, even though revenues from offshore oil and gas development have been well over $5 billion, and in some years have run as high as $18 billion, per year.
"This is a critical moment for land conservation in America. Projected population growth will put additional pressure on existing parks and reduce remaining open space, an entire generation's health is at risk from a sedentary lifestyle, and climate change threatens to alter many of our important natural systems," said Will Rogers, President, The Trust for Public Land. "Investing now in the continuum of conservation - from the urban core to wilderness areas - will ensure a healthier and greener future for America and leave an important legacy for our children and grandchildren."