A bipartisan panel released a report this week suggesting that the federal government should increase by tenfold its spending on outdoor recreation and conservation.
The wide-ranging review of how Americans engage with and value the nation’s land and water resources and its outdoor recreation assets calls for a comprehensive overhaul of programs and policies to safeguard resources for future generations and a growing population, according to SustainableBusiness.com.
The Outdoor Resources Review Group (ORRG) said at least $3.2 billion a year — up from current funding of about $255 million–is needed to conserve and protect the nation’s outdoor heritage, including parks, wildlife refuges and open space
U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) served as honorary co-chairs of the group, which presented its report on Capitol Hill on Monday (July 6).
The panel analyzed efforts to conserve and protect the nation’s outdoor heritage–including parks, wildlife refuges, and open space. The report draws a strong link between the availability and quality of these resources and the health of Americans, the economy, and communities nationwide. It also points to the tremendous hurdle in securing adequate funding for parks, recreation and related purposes at the state and local levels, which are on the front line in providing these services.
In the foreword to the report, Bingaman and Alexander said, “Americans all across the country, of all backgrounds and of all political views, care deeply about the health of our land and water resources — the wildlife, parks, forests, farms and ranchlands, and historic places that have sustained and enriched us as a people over generations …. We are past due for a serious look at where we stand as a country in achieving our goal of safeguarding these resources.”
A key proposal in the report, which is flagged for further study, is the development of an independent conservation trust within the federal establishment, with dedicated and sustained funding reaching $5 billion annually. One potential funding source, the report suggests, could be a percentage of royalties and revenues collected from development of new renewable and conventional energy resources and transmission capacity on public lands and on the outer continental shelf.
It also calls for a national climate program to help fund the adaptation of land and water resources in a warming world.
The ORRG report is the first major assessment of outdoor resources since the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors in 1987. In the more than 20 years since that study, a wide range of outdoor pursuits — including such activities as bird watching, water-related sports, rock climbing, mountain biking, and off-road vehicles — have grown in popularity, even as more traditional activities such as hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing retain strong core followings.
The report recommends creating a new nationwide system of “Blueways” and water trails to energize grassroots activity to improve water quality and water-related recreation opportunities.
The 17-member ORRG task force was organized by Henry Diamond, partner at Beveridge & Diamond P.C., an environmental law firm headquartered in Washington, and former commissioner of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation; Patrick Noonan, chairman emeritus of The Conservation Fund; and Gilbert Grosvenor, chairman of the board of the National Geographic Society.
“Healthy, productive land and water resources, wildlife habitat, parks and open space, culturally and historically significant landscapes, and available and accessible recreation lands are fundamental to the American way of life and our future prosperity,” the report states. “At stake now and for future generations is the health of our people, our economy, our communities, and the lands and waters on which we depend, in short, the quality of life we enjoy in our cities and towns and rural places.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the report “deserves the utmost consideration.” He called outdoor recreation a key jobs creator and said conservation is important, even in difficult economic times.