America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to Support Conservation and Working Lands
February 18th, 2011
On February 16, 2011, President Obama released a report outlining the Administration’s plan to enhance conservation of public and private lands through the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) Initiative. The AGO Initiative is a partnership between the Department of Agriculture (USDA ), Department of the Interior (DOI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). According to the Administration, the report is based on 51 public listening sessions and more than 105,000 submitted comments.
Specific recommendations and action items include:
- Establish the interagency AGO Council to achieve more cooperation and collaboration among federal agencies engaged in conservation and recreation;
- Create the AGO Collaborative Landscape Conservation Initiative through coordinated competitive processes;
- Coordinate and align federal programs that provide technical or financial assistance to public and private organizations that support and implement collaborative landscape-scale conservation initiatives (including USDA conservation programs);
- Maintain the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) at 32 million acres through the terms of the 2008 Farm Bill and focus part of the program on landscape conservation, including work that benefits wildlife, water quality and quantity, and other valuable resources;
- Work with Congress to extend the existing conservation easement tax deduction provision beyond 2011;
- Support the development and expansion of new markets, including those for the environmental services provided by working lands, for local agricultural or sustainable forest products, sustainable energy, and others;
- Expand partnerships with private landowners that facilitate access to or across private lands for recreation through programs such as the USDA Voluntary Public Access Program; and
- Promote the use of safe harbor and candidate conservation agreements and collaborate with Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to streamline permitting processes with agreements and memoranda of understanding that promote conservation objectives; work with USDA in combining Farm Bill conservation program dollars where appropriate.
According to the report, in addition to providing financial and technical assistance for conservation to landowners, it is essential to both maintain traditional markets for food, fiber and wood products and develop new and expanded markets for environmental services, agricultural products, biomass energy, and sustainably harvested wood products.
The interagency partnership expects the AGO Council–within 180 days of its establishment–to publish a plan with assignments and timelines to improve agency coordination, align federal programs, and implement the report.
You can download the full report or parts of the report from the America’s Great Outdoors website.
The President launched the AGO Initiative in April 2010 to help shape his conservation policy. The launch included a presidential memorandum outlining broad goals, including encouraging sustainable use of private land, connecting wildlife migration and other natural corridors, encouraging outdoor recreation and conservation, and forming coalitions with local government and the private sector.
NSAC submitted a public comment on the Initiative to USDA conservation and environment senior leadership. The comment called attention to the critical role played by USDA working agricultural lands conservation programs in advancing the Initiative’s goals.
The NSAC statement noted the strong connections that could be made between the AGO objectives and both USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative and regional rural economic development initiative. Our comment also recommended more effective use of the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, Conservation Stewardship Program, and Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program, to enhance conservation education and recreation opportunities.
The NSAC statement also took the Administration to task for proposing to reduce USDA private lands conservation spending, a reality that has to our great disappointment reoccurred in the FY 2012 Obama Budget Request. On Monday, the President proposed slashing over $1 billion from USDA conservation programs, a budget proposal that appears strongly at odds with the AGO announcement two days later.