By good measure, President Obama has protected more public lands and waters than any other president before him. What makes his national monument designations particularly special is that he has protected landscapes and sites that directly respond to the requests of local communities. He has also greatly increased the diversity of stories and sites protected by our public land management agencies to ensure a broader representation of America is honored and reflected in our system of public lands.
For example, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument on the outskirts of Los Angeles responded to the needs of millions of Angelenos for outdoor recreation access, especially for the city’s sizable Latino population, and enabled better protection for the drinking water utilized by 30 percent of the city. In addition, the President created the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, honoring one of America’s greatest labor and human rights leaders; Browns Canyon in Colorado, the most popular destination for whitewater rafting in the country and a monument designation greatly influenced by input from Latino groups; and Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, the nation’s newest monument and only the 9th that commemorates women’s history and the struggle for women’s rights.
Equally as impressive in accomplishment is the vast improvement for all Americans to be able to access the Great Outdoors and recreate in our public lands. President Obama has supported reauthorization and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the nation’s premier program for land conservation, and which provides grant funds for communities nationwide. He has also spearheaded the Every Kid in a Park initiative, so that fourth graders and their families can discover the wildlife, resources, and history available in our federal lands and waters at no cost, focusing on schools with high numbers of children from low-income families, and aiming to cultivate the next stewards of our natural and cultural heritage.
In total alignment with the President, the National Park Service created the Latino Heritage Internship Program, in partnership with Hispanic Access Foundation, to engage young people with the skills of cultural, historical, natural resource management and connect them with internships in national parks nationwide. Our program is not only helping to diversify the agency’s workforce, but also inspire new stewards and visitors to these parks. As it stands, Latinos are the most underrepresented group in the agency’s workforce.
Through our collaborations with the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it’s clear that the President’s great success in championing public lands protection, enhancing access to the outdoors, and realizing the need for a more diverse representation in public lands has benefited from a hugely talented staff. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Robert Bonnie, the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at USDA, have done an outstanding job engaging with and responding to local communities, and conducting public listening sessions about many issues. In addition, Secretary Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis have been astute in recognizing the importance of engaging youth in a Park Service career path and taking the action to work with our organization to foster an internship program.
In announcing “Every Kid in a Park,” President Obama eloquently communicated his connection and promise to provide universal access to America’s Great Outdoors: “Because no matter who you are, no matter where you live, our parks, our monuments, our lands, our waters — these places are your birthright as Americans.”
Thank you President Obama, for leadership that unites Americans in appreciation for our heritage. For the remainder of your presidency, we are with you in your commitment to protect and enhance the diversity of our public lands for the enjoyment of generations to come.
Please join us in calling on President Obama to issue a Presidential Memorandum to ensure the second century of conservation in America reflects the full diversity of our nation’s citizens; respects the historical, cultural and spiritual stories and unique contributions of all Americans; and actively engages all people. Sign the petition at:https://www.change.org/p/public-lands-for-all-americans
Maite Arce Huffington Post