"The President was on the mark in everything he said: We need greater federal funding and partnerships with land conservation groups to protect the beautiful and ecologically vital land around the country. We need to protect working farmland. We need to create more parks in our cities and create jobs for young people working outdoors."
This is the exuberant message I texted my colleagues at Scenic Hudson, the organization I head, on February 16, shortly after President Obama finished briefing the country's conservation leaders on details of his America's Great Outdoors initiative. I was fortunate to be on hand as he unveiled his conservation blueprint for harnessing federal resources, in collaboration with state and local initiatives, to connect more people with our nation's natural treasures.
You could play an important role in determining the America's Great Outdoors initiative's future. More about that below.
The President's East Wing talk culminated months of public outreach and planning among senior administration officials, including the secretaries of the Agriculture and Interior departments, and chiefs of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corp of Engineers and other natural resource agencies. It reflects vision and leadership at a crucial moment when our country's spectacular outdoor resources can be the catalyst for creating jobs and safeguarding the health of all Americans. (The final America's Great Outdoors report is available at americasgreatoutdoors.gov.
Numerous studies have shown that public parkland is good for business. In fact, active outdoor recreationthings like bicycling, camping, fishing, wildlife watching and snow sportsgenerates $730 billion in annual spending and employs nearly 6.5 million people, or one out of every 20 workers in the U.S. A recent study in New York indicated that every government dollar invested in a state park creates five dollars of additional revenue in surrounding communities.
Parks and open space also encourage healthy lifestyles. Outdoor exercise is a key element in overcoming obesitya disease that afflicts broad and growing segments of Americans, especially our youth, where obesity has more than tripled since 1980. Increasing access to outdoor recreation produces an almost 50 percent rise in the frequency of physical activity, helping to alleviate threats from cardiovascular disease and some cancers. This has enormous economic impacts: According to a Milken Institute study, reducing obesity to a "reasonable and achievable" level by 2023 would result in a $60-billion saving in treatment costs and boost output by $254 billion.
The America's Great Outdoors initiative also will support efforts to protect farmland critical for creating sustainable "foodsheds" around our growing metropolitan centers. Making fresh, local produce more available would alleviate concerns about food security while cutting down on the 1,500 "food miles" it takes the average meal to reach our tables, vastly lowering greenhouse emissions. It also would encourage food choices that make us healthier, especially in underserved neighborhoods. Two new studies exploring ways for New York City to increase access to the bounty of surrounding farms indicate that neighborhoods with greater access to healthy food have a lower prevalence of diet-related illnesses, including three of the city's five leading causes of mortalityheart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Probably the question on the tip of your tongue is: How can we pay for this? Actually, the money already is on hand. America's Great Outdoors initiative funding would come primarily from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, proposed by the president in next year's federal budget at $900 millionthe maximum authorized by Congress. This money comes from the billions of dollars earned by major oil companies from offshore drilling. In his White House remarks, President Obama rightly noted that corporations that take from the land should give a little back.
Here's where you come in. A battle royal is playing out in Congress right now over current-year funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Now is the time for all citizens who care about jobs, our children's health and America's great outdoor resources to let their Representatives and Senators know they support President Obama on this key issue. Tell them not to oppose a program that will protect our land, our air and water for the benefit of future generations of Americans.
They need to hear what the environment means to you.
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