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President's "America's Great Outdoors" Report Vindicates RFFI's Grassroots Approach to Conserving Our Lands

February 17, 2011

Recovering redwood forest, North Fork Standley Creek Headwaters; photo credit: Richard Gienger

On February 17, 2011, President Obama released the report that was generated by the America's Great Outdoors (AGO) Initiative. It takes a position that lasting conservation solutions should rise from the American people -- that the protection of our natural heritage is a non-partisan objective shared by all Americans. The AGO Initiative was launched on April 16, 2010 by the President who encouraged engaging Americans in a robust national conversation about the future of conservation in America. The Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality were charged with developing a 21st-century conservation and recreation agenda.

Outreach, listening and public input revealed that Americans recognize that pitting a healthy environment against a healthy economy is a false choice -- we must and can have both. By investing in our natural wealth and heritage, we can create jobs associated with recreation and sustainable land management and stewardship, while passing on a vital natural legacy to our children and grandchildren.

"Throughout our history, conservation actions have been grounded in the premise that our natural heritage belongs to the people and that access to it and its protection are basic American values. Communities have long been catalysts for and champions of action to protect the places they cherish, whether majestic national parks and forests, iconic working lands, or city green spaces."

AGO found that land development and natural resource extraction have fragmented our lands, disrupted natural systems, and imperiled productive farmland and woodlands. One out of three acres that has been developed in the United States was developed from 1982 to 2007. Annually, we now lose about 1.6 million acres of our working farms, ranches, and forests to development and fragmentation. Many of our rivers, lakes, coasts, and streams are polluted. On the other hand, AGO found local grass-roots groups forming innovative partnerships to conserve millions of acres that benefit communities, wildlife, recreation, and local economies.

AGO urges that we conserve rural working farms, ranches, and forests through partnerships and incentives. The national conversation and agency research recommends that the federal government should foster, catalyze, and partner in community-level efforts on working lands to conserve and strategically connect the nation's landscapes and watersheds.

A key outcome of the report is the President's Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is the primary source of federal funding for states and federal agencies to protect and conserve America's landscapes and to promote outdoor recreation. The funding is never sufficient to meet the need. The AGO report suggests that LWCF funding can be more effectively used by supporting locally community-driven conservation partnerships, like RFFI, that are seeking to establish working forest conservation easements. The AGO endorses the use of voluntary conservation incentives in support of grass-roots efforts to conserve America's private forestland. Conserving timberland and keeping it in sustainable production though the sale of conservation easements is far less costly than purchasing that same land. Further, conserving forest land through easements means that government agencies do not bear the subsequent cost of maintaining the resource.

Acknowledging the difficult economic times, the President calls for support to catalyze landscape-scale conservation on working lands "through partnerships and incentives." The report finds that "Public-private partnerships can be nimble and innovative in distributing information and expertise, leveraging investment, inspiring children, broadcasting successful and replicable models, and building public awareness."

Organizations like the Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI) are perfectly positioned to move this national agenda forward. RFFI is demonstrating that it is possible to simultaneously revitalize the environment, the economy and achieve social equity. The AGO report is an endorsement of the path taken by organizations like RFFI, a community-based collaborative of timber-related principals holding widely disparate views. The report endorses grass-roots, public-private partnerships as among the best vehicles for achieving cost-effective conservation of large-scale landscapes like RFFI's Usal Redwood Forest.

RFFI is presently trying to add the "public" component to this partnership. RFFI purchased the 50,000 acre redwood forest with private financing and is presently seeking public funding to fund a conservation easement through the State of California's Wildlife Conservation Board's (WCB) Forest Conservation program. The sale of the easement will conserve this working community forest and assure that the landscape remains intact and in sustainable management in perpetuity for the benefit of the community in which it is located.

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