This week, I joined Federal colleagues and other conservation leaders at the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation to talk about how the Obama Administration is thinking and planning at a landscape-level when it comes to conservation and natural resource management.
Our Nation’s conservation challenges are numerous, and they’re too big for any agency, government, NGO, or landowner to handle alone. For example, climate change is putting many of our vital natural resources at risk. Droughts are getting longer and dryer in some parts of the country, and wildfires are causing more devastation than ever before. And some of our most important watersheds are impacted by heavy pollution, threatening local economies throughout the country. We’re also seeing a growing list of imperiled wildlife species, and development of all kinds – from housing to energy to commercial – is encroaching on our outdoor spaces.
Responding to these challenges involves working across jurisdictions and with all partners, because Mother Nature pays no attention to political or bureaucratic boundaries. That means Federal agencies, tribes, state and local governments, and other stakeholders all have to come to the table and work together. It is this approach – considering all lands and listening to all voices – that best defines landscape-level conservation.
This is the approach the Obama Administration has been taking from the beginning, whether it’s responding to wildfires, making lands more resilient to climate change, or restoring rivers and lakes. In priority areas like preparing for and responding to climate change, protecting and restoring our water resources, and improving land management for multiple uses, we’ve made important progress over the past five and a half years.
Just last month, we released the Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda along with a series of public and private sector commitments to support it. The Priority Agenda represents a commitment to manage natural resources in a way that optimizes carbon storage and sequestration, and enhances community preparedness through smart and safe natural infrastructure solution.
We’ve also dedicated unprecedented attention and resources to restoring places like the Chesapeake Bay, California Bay-Delta, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, and the Everglades – each of them national treasures and the lifeblood of local and regional economies. In the Everglades, for example, landscape-scale partnerships have brought together Federal, state, tribal, and private interests to address issues like habitat fragmentation, wildlife protection, and the continued productivity of America’s farms, ranches, forests, and coasts.
In this Administration, we have made managing for multiple uses a principal tenet of our approach to public lands. Taking an integrated approach to planning and land management is quite simply the only way to meet increasing demands for our natural resources without increasing conflict. The Department of the Interior’s “smart from the start” approach to renewable energy production provides an excellent blueprint for how good planning can prevent conflict. And in our efforts to rebuild and protect populations of endangered wildlife species, enlisting states and private landowners as partners and ensuring consistency and predictability across entire ecosystems is helping build a process that is less contentious and ultimately better for landowners and wildlife.
There are many other ways we can pursue a landscape-level approach to land management. But in order to get Americans truly invested in conservation and landscape-level thinking, we need to do everything we can to ensure they can connect with treasured outdoor spaces in their communities. That’s been a hallmark of this Administration, and that’s why, this month, the President created the San Gabriel National Mountains National Monument in Los Angeles County, his 13th national monument designation. And the President made clear that he wasn’t doing this to lock away those gorgeous mountains; instead, he was protecting such a beautiful landscape to unlock it “to make sure everybody can experience these incredible gifts.”
We still have more work to do, and we are committed to continuing our progress. Landscape conservation may never drive news headlines, but if we think bigger and work collaboratively, Americans and our natural systems will benefit from it for years to come.
Mike Boots leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality.