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The Health of Our Lands and Waters and the Health of Our Economy

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley discuss ways the Nation’s lands, waters, and wildlife can help create jobs for our future.
Chair Sutley and Secretary Salazar at the Economic Rural Forum

Chair Sutley and Secretary Salazar engage with stakeholders at a breakout session on conservation, tourism, and the economy at the White House Rural Economic Forum in Peosta, Iowa. (Photo by Tami Heilemann - Department of Interior)

From the beginning of his Administration, President Obama has been a champion for the wise stewardship of America’s natural treasures, understanding the strong connection between the health of our lands and waters and the health of our economy. Smart, community-led conservation presents a tremendous opportunity to improve quality of life across America, and to build and grow local jobs in industries like recreation and tourism. In fact, one in every 20 jobs is related to outdoor recreation, making conservation integral to a thriving American economy. 

Beginning very early in 2009 with the President’s historic signing of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, this Administration has invested in land and water protection by creating the most important conservation initiative in more than a generation. Through his America’s Great Outdoors initiative, the President has announced an action plan, built with ideas from the American people, to achieve lasting conservation of the outdoor spaces that communities care about, and to reconnect people – especially children – to the outdoors.

In our most recent travels throughout the Northwest and the Northeast, we saw firsthand the intersection of conservation and economic growth in rural communities. Below are just a few of the highlights from our trips:

  • In John Day, Oregon, the Malheur Lumber Company and Pellet Plant is using byproducts from the U.S. Forest Service’s Malheur National Forest restoration project to create wood pellets that provide clean, renewable energy to the local community. This initiative has saved existing jobs and created new ones. In addition, pellets and bricks manufactured at Malheur Lumber will reduce energy costs by $4.4 million across the regional economy.
  • At the busy Bibens Ace Hardware near Burlington, Vermont, the economic benefits and job creation opportunities of conservation and recreation are on full display. Vermont’s outdoor recreation economy continues to grow stronger as local communities, stakeholders, and state and federal agencies have teamed up to improve the health of the lake, improve the fisheries that draw anglers from around the world, and preserve the heritage of the Lake Champlain Valley. 
  • In Rhode Island, we see the economic opportunities that have come from the protection of the rich history of the Blackstone River Valley. Now,  local communities want to explore creating a national historical park within the Blackstone River Valley to help better tell the story of the Industrial Revolution in America and to boost tourism and economic development.    

These promising efforts are just a few of those underway across the nation. They reinforce what we heard Tuesday at the White House Rural Economic Forum in Peosta, Iowa, where President Obama announced actions that will help grow jobs in rural America. At a breakout session focused on conservation, tourism and the economy, we heard from the public, trade associations, Iowa counties, foundations, conservation groups, non-profits, beef and pork groups, and the Future Farmers of America on how land and water conservation are benefiting their economies and communities. 

These forums give us valuable insight into ways the nation’s lands, waters, and wildlife can help create jobs for our future. From farms and ranches to forests and rivers, from the food we eat to the water we drink, the health of the outdoors shapes our national character, culture, communities, and economies. 

Ken Salazar is Secretary of the Interior and Nancy Sutley is Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality