In early August, a few of our staff member had the opportunity to attend the America's Great Outdoors Listening Session held in Downtown Salt Lake City. Representatives from the Obama Administration, such as Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Chair Nancy Sutley from the President's Council on Environmental Quality, and Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey were there to listen to the comments, concerns, ideas, and suggestions of citizens and interest groups in Utah. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and State Governor Gary Herbert were also there to show their support.
This event was a result of a presidential initiative signed in April of this year, the goal of which is “to identify new opportunities to work with Americans on a modern approach to conservation that begins at the ground level, and to reinvigorate the national conversation about our outdoors.”
The day started with a general session, where we were privileged to hear from Abbey, Becker, Herbert, Sutley, and Salazar. We also viewed "America's Great Outdoors," an introductory film available for online viewing here. After the film, the floor was then opened up to the audience for questions. A variety of interests were represented in this period, from OHV drivers to hikers, young activists to mothers, and from local politicians to nonprofit workers.
After the general session, the audience was divided into eight rooms for more involved conversations. Groups were asked to answer four questions:
- Challenges- What obstacles exist to achieving your goals for conservation, recreation, or reconnecting people to the outdoors?
- What Works- Please share your thoughts and ideas on effective strategies for conservation, recreation and reconnecting people to the outdoors
- Federal Government Role- How can the federal government be a more effective partner in helping to achieve conservation, recreation or reconnecting people to the outdoors?
- Tools: What additional tools and resources would help your efforts be even more successful?
We noticed a few recurring themes in the discussion yesterday.
- Education: many people mentioned a need for better education about opportunities to recreate outdoors, as well as education on how to recreate responsibly.
- Involving Youth: it was brought up multiple times that getting children outside and involved with the outdoors is a critical part of maintaining and conserving our "Great Outdoors."
- Streamlining Government Processes: one story was told about a 15 year process to gain approval to mark a trail in Moab with signs. Many expressed frustration with the lengthy application and approval processes that are part of outdoor recreation.
- Fairness: a controversial issue that came up in the session was about OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles). The main point that we came away with was that we need to eliminate the "us vs. them" attitude, and work together to create fair opportunities for outdoor recreation. BLM Director Bob Abbey stated that the future of OHV roads and trails is up to the OHV users themselves. If they act irresponsibly on BLM lands, those lands will no longer be available for their use. As individuals, we see this as a statement that could be applied to hikers, skiers, and bikers as well. Our privilege to enjoy the outdoors should be dependent on our stewardship. Another interesting fact that Abbey brought up is that for ever 1 million acres of BLM land, there is only one enforcement officer.
- Grass-Roots involvement: As people who live, work, and play in Utah, we know the ins and outs of the issues here. We know what works, we know what does not work. Chair Nancy Sutley continually stressed the importance that this effort be grass-roots, and not a top-down approach.
- Compromise: With so many interests, it became very apparent at the session that accomplishing anything is going to take compromise and cooperation. Many expressed interest in working with government agencies and local nonprofits to achieve optimum results.
Didn't have a chance to attend the session or offer your ideas? You can go online and submit your ideas here! It isn't too often that our federal government asks for community input, so take advantage of this opportunity to make your ideas known today!