On Nov. 15, President Obama will receive the report from the America’s Great Outdoors listening sessions, held across the country this summer to get public input in the creation of a conservation agenda for the 21st century. This report will guide the Administration’s efforts to conserve America’s natural resources and reconnect Americans to the outdoors. In the lead up to the report, the Making America’s Outdoors Truly Great blog series will highlight some of the threats our country’s natural resources face and key perspectives from states throughout the U.S. on how the Administration can build on existing programs to guarantee that America’s outdoors remain great for generations to come.
This is the second in the series. Also see: The Great Outdoors: Building and Improving Parks and Trails Must be Part of New Initiative.
People sometimes talk about farm living as the “simple life.” It’s true that there is an inherent simplicity in connecting to the natural environment by working the land everyday. But sustaining our working farms and ranches is anything but simple—requiring collaboration among communities, state and federal agencies, as well as public support.
The America’s Great Outdoors Initiative is a federal effort designed to help reconnect Americans with our natural resources and renew our commitment to preserving them for future generations. The national conversation it inspires can be vital to preserving our agricultural heritage for the health of our families, economy and environment.
Exciting efforts to protect working landscapes are happening nationwide. These collaborations among ranchers, local and federal government, conservationists and others have preserved thousands of farms and ranches, and are truly a model for the rest of the country.
“Americans have taken extraordinary steps to protect our land, water, wildlife and history for future generations,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in April when launching the initiative, “but today the places we love face new challenges that require new ideas and new strategies to solve.”
Like Secretary Salazar, I, too, have a family tradition of farming and ranching. My family operates a corn and soybean farm in McLean County, Illinois. I understand how working the land helps to strengthen our personal connection to our natural heritage and inspires a stewardship ethic in our children.
Regrettably, the farmlands I grew up appreciating are under assault. Every minute of every day, America loses more than an acre of farmland. In the five years between 2002 and 2007, over 4 million acres of active agricultural land were developed—an area nearly the size of the state of Massachusetts.
We’re challenged by the loss of working lands at a time when we are asking more and more from this land than simply the production of food and fiber. Farmers and ranchers worry about losing our livelihoods and family legacies, but every American should be concerned about the loss of our working farm and ranch lands.
In addition to feeding and clothing our families, America’s farms and ranches enhance the quality of life in our communities, provide fiscal stability for local governments, and bolster the national economy. These lands also help control flooding, protect wetlands and watersheds, maintain air and water quality and provide food and cover for wildlife. New energy crops like biofuels and wind even have the potential to replace foreign oil.
The federal government can be an active partner and contributor to the efforts of private landowners, states and communities to secure and manage this resource base for future generations. We welcome the leadership of President Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary Salazar to raise public awareness about the value of our working farms and ranches. With this leadership and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, farm bill conservation and other partnership programs that protect our land and water, we can sustain our agricultural heritage and natural resources, and inspire the next generation of stewards.
Jon Scholl is the president of American Farmland Trust, a conservation organization dedicated to saving America’s farm and ranch land, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and supporting a sustainable future for farms. Since its founding in 1980 by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to development, AFT has helped save more than 3 million acres of farmland from development.