Montana's Big Sky stretched across much of President Barack Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative that was unveiled Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The plan to encourage land conservation and outdoor recreation got a White House send-off and won praise from Ducks Unlimited to Missoula's Parks and Recreation Department. The president's administration held 51 listening sessions over the past 10 months to gather ideas. The kickoff took place outside of Ovando on the Rolling Stone Ranch. Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and numerous outdoors industry and advocacy leaders heard about several Montana conservation success stories.

"They were clearly impressed with Montana," said Bob Ekey of the Wilderness Society.

Efforts like the Montana Legacy Project and Southwest Crown Collaborative showed the value of local support and participation.

"The next step is how do we make sure these agencies are looking across their own boundaries," Ekey said. "They need to be looking across broader pieces of landscape. Not just this ranger district, but the adjacent BLM land, and the private land next door, and what's on the next landscape over."

The initiative highlights included more parks and green spaces for children, river "blueways" to revitalize communities and support for private landowners who provide recreation access. Obama also pledged to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a desire many Montana conservation groups have been lobbying for.

"It's clear that conservation in the 21st century is going to take more than just what we can do here in Washington," Obama said Wednesday. "Meeting the new test of environmental stewardship means finding the best ideas at the grass-roots level."

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership President Whit Fosburgh liked the inclusion of hunting and fishing concerns in the White House comments.

"The America's Great Outdoors Initiative enabled sportsmen to impress upon our leaders the importance of programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has acquired and conserved some of our nation's most popular public lands for hunting and fishing, and Open Fields, which facilitates sportsmen's access to farms and ranches and encourages fish and wildlife habitat management on private lands," said Fosburgh, who attended the ceremony. "Sportsmen appreciate the president's receptiveness to our concerns and his enthusiasm for the hunting and fishing traditions so central to the American identity."

John Kostyak of the National Wildlife Federation noted that the House of Representatives appears to be heading in the opposite direction. A proposed budget plan eliminates funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and several other land-management programs.

"As Congress and the president debate about budgets, they must heed the nation's call for making conservation a priority by implementing the recommendations in the Great Outdoors report," Kostyak said in a news release. "We cannot compromise our nation's commitment to clean air, clean water, healthy wildlife habitat and green spaces for children and families to connect to nature."

The president's speech did not include timelines for future work. In Bozeman, Ekey said the thousands of people involved in the project would keep the pressure on.

"It's important now for the people who asked us to do that to make sure that there's follow-through," Ekey said. "The fact it was a presidential deal to release the report tells me the department heads are committed to moving forward."

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

 

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