The Economic Value of Conservation and the Great Outdoors -- Q&A Recorded Live with Secretary Salazar
February 7, 2012
Tim Fullerton: Good afternoon, and welcome to the interior department. My name is Tim Fullerton, I'm the director of new media here. I want to thank you all for joining us this afternoon for a chat on outdoor recreation and conservation issues. We are very lucky to have Secretary Ken Salazar here, who's going to be answering your questions over the next 30 to 40 minutes.
We've already gotten some really great ones so far. But if you haven't had a chance to send one in yet, please do so in the chat window below. We'll try to get to as many of them as possible.
Before I turn it over the Secretary, I just want to thank all the members of the National Wildlife Federation, who have sent in some great questions. We really appreciate you guys being on today.
Mr. Secretary, would you like to open us up?
Ken Salazar: First, let me say to the members of the National Wildlife Federation, all of you who are watching. I appreciate the storied and long leadership of all the members of the National Wildlife Federation in creating the conservation legacy that we have here in the United States of America. I work with your leadership on many issues all around the country. I very much appreciate your hard work.
Secondly, I want to say that conservation is an issue which is as important today as it was 100 years ago. When President Roosevelt really started the movement, by bringing together conservationists from around the country here to Washington, D.C. We have a lot of work to do.
We have major challenges ahead. Including funding challenges for conservation. But the way that we are going to succeed on our conservation agenda, is making sure that there is a very strong voice for conservation, here in the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C., and throughout the United States of America.
I'm pleased to join you, Tim, and the members of the National Wildlife Federation, and others who are watching this chat this afternoon.
Tim: Great. Thank you Mr. Secretary. The first question is coming from Stephen, who lives in Missouri. His question is, "What is being done to share the positive message of outdoor recreation and conservation within the halls of Congress?"
Ken: Stephen, I appreciate the question. First it's jobs. Next it's health. Third, it's our culture and heritage. We have been making sure that Congress understands the importance of conservation and preservation.
This last year, the conservation community came together and funded a study that shows there are about eight million jobs that are created just through outdoor recreation, conservation, and historic preservation. We were having a hard time with Congress, earlier in the year. Because the House of Representatives had decided to slash the budgets of all conservation in America, in a way that would have set us back, probably, 50 years.
For example, they had decided to cut the Fish and Wildlife Service and our National Wildlife Refuge System by 22 percent. That would have required the closure of approximately 100 wildlife refuges. So we essentially had a call to arms, where we brought together the leaders of all the conservation community, as well as the outdoor recreation business community.
We went knocking on the halls of the people of Congress. The message to them was simple. Eight million American jobs depend on conservation and outdoor recreation, every year. Number two, this is part of the conservation legacy of America. That's why we are the envy of the world in conservation. So it's important that you not defund these programs.
At the end of the day, we were fairly successful. We still have some challenges ahead of us. But I think the message to Congress has been delivered loud and clear.
It's been a bipartisan message. There were many Democrats, obviously, involved. I was involved. The President was involved. Others were involved. But also, we had Republicans who very much believe in the cause of conservation, for hunting, for fishing, for outdoor recreation. They were very much a part of this team.
Tim: Great. Thank you Mr. Secretary. The next question is going to come from Greg, who's with the American Hiking Society. His question is, "Mr. Secretary, How can we better integrate the good efforts that Interior and the Department of Agriculture are doing regarding America's Great Outdoors Initiative, and the economic benefits, with other agencies, like Education, Health and Human Services, the CDC, and others?"
Ken: Greg, it's an excellent question. America's Great Outdoors Project was announced by the governor, or by the President, not more than a year ago. We have been working very hard in developing and implementing America's Great Outdoors. On landscapes of national significance, which are important to all of you who are watching here.
We've moved forward with establishing the Everglades Headwaters Conservation Area, the Flint Hills National Conservation Area, the Crown of the Continent, and many other initiatives like that. We've also moved forward with the next generation of urban parks. Putting the focus on places like New York City, St. Louis, Denver, Colorado, and Los Angeles. We're moving forward with new urban parks.
Thirdly, we're focusing in on rivers. How we might be able to start a revival around how we restore America's rivers. Those have been very much a part of America's Great Outdoors.
Our linkage with the Department of Agriculture has been seamless on this effort. Secretary Vilsack and I have been leading this effort for the last year. I met with him yesterday to make sure that our relationship with the U.S. Forest Service is one that is strong. We still have additional work to do. We have lots of projects that we're working on, all over the country.
America's Great Outdoors is identified as one of the parts of the initiative. 101 priority conservation projects around the country. Two in each state, one in the District of Columbia. There are probably 14, 15 of those where USDA, the Core Services and the LEED. We are working very cooperatively with them recognizing that between ourselves and the for rest of us, there are about half a billion, so almost 500 million visitors that come to visit our public plants. Many of those are hikers and other recreationists.
Tim: For those of you who would learn more about America's Great Outdoors initiative, you can go to our website which is www.americasgreatoutsoors.gov. Or you can like us on Face Book at facebook.com/americasgreatoutdoors.
The next question we are going to move to question on natural gas. This is from Sandra in South Carolina. She asks, in the State of the Union address, President Obama stated he would open public plants to drill for natural gas. How is this compatible with conservation?
Ken: Sandra, it's a very good question. It's compatible with conversation in, that we will not allow oil and gas development in places where there is sensitivity to the ecological or conservation values that we have. So, as we implemented Presidents' energy agenda for the last three years, I've often said that you can explore oil and gas, but you just can't do it everywhere. There are places that are going to be off limits. Our concept has been smart from the start.
We need to plan the places where oil and gas development will take place. So that, we are protecting the conservation values of the United States. When I first came in office, we cancelled leases that were in the vicinity of Arches National Park in Utah, a large park. Because of the impact it would have had on those conservation interests.
So, as we move forward we try to reach a right balance knowing that natural gas is an important part of our energy portfolio for the future. But, also recognizing that conservationists sustainability, really of long term values which we care about so much and we need to defend.
Tim: Great. Thank you Mr. Secretary. The next question is on volunteers in this, from William, Texas. He would like to know, how much does volunteers impact our national parks. If we had to pay for those services what impact would that have on the budget?
Ken: Yeah, really it's a huge impact from the friends who are national parks and our wildlife refuges. I have travelled in 49 states around the country. Many of our States many times over the last three years and always tell the friends of our wildlife refuges and our national parks, that we are strongest in those places. But, we have the strongest friends and voluntary organizations. The number of volunteers that help us in our public plants around the country, now number over 300,000.
So, 300,000 people who are out there volunteering and visitors centers doing a publication, hopping us [inaudible 8:20] sometimes whole host of things. That's what allowed us to still maintain at this point in time even under these difficult fiscal conditions, the best public plants conservation program on earth. That's something that we as Americans can all be very proud of. It's something that I am very proud of. So, Willie in Texas and Big Ben National Park, for example.
We have one of the most robust friends group of Big Ben National Park, that's a million and a half acres. The friends groups are helping us with funding, with improvements on some of the efficiency efforts we have on lighting the Big Ben and a whole host of other things.
I can say the same thing about most of our National Parks our and wildlife refuges. Friends groups, volunteers are absolutely essential really to everything that we do.
Tim: Great. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. The next question is going to be from Karl in California. He wants to know, how can we get more motorized and mountain bike trails included in America's Great Outdoors Report?
Ken: Karl, we do have many places where we do have motorized off-road vehicle usage and roads where we have lot of off off-road vehicles. I was at the Imperial Sand Dunes in Southern California, near San Diego not too long ago. There were hundreds of four wheelers that were out there with families who have now camped and who have recreated almost sand dunes are now doing it in the third, fourth and fifth generation. I spent a lot of time with them.
If you look across our public plants which number some 700 million acres. It's one of three acres in United States of America. I think you will find ample opportunity for motorized vehicle use or public plants.
Tim: Great. Thank you Mr. Secretary. The next question is going to come from the chat. This question is, what can be done to help the public and sportsmen understand the great recreation opportunities on national wildlife refuges? And, what can you do to adjust the backlog on our wildlife refuges?
Ken: It's a question which Director Ash and I deal with a lot. And, that is, how do we tell a better story about National Wildlife Refuges System. You're a member of National Wildlife Federation you know a lot about the history and the system. And, the icons from the bison, the bald eagle to the whooping crane, everything else we work on.
But, if you are just a regular American citizen that's not a member of National Wildlife Federation, sometimes people don't know the story of our National Wildlife Refuge System and the fact that it's the envy of the world. We don't have the same resources frankly and the refuge system that we have in the National Parks System. Park System has been able to better tell its story because it's been able to access more resources frankly in the refuge system that we have in the national park system. The park system has been able to better tell it's story because it has been able to access more resources to be able to tell the story of Yellowstone, The Statue of Liberty and the like.
We're doing a better job with the wildlife refuge system and Dan Ashe and I, and especially our partnership with the US Fish and Wild Life foundation and Jeff Trandahl and his leadership there. It's been a tremendously successful effort but we need to continue on those successes so that the people in the United States know that our refuge system is there for their enjoyment.
In Colorado, one quick example, in Denver we're trying to establish linkages between three wild life refuges, and they're along the...they're called the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, the South Plant River and distributaries and Rocky Flats. What we have just been doing the last several weeks is actually putting signage on the main highways I-79 and I-25 that will actually indicate that the wildlife refuge is there and it's for the visitation pleasure of people. I hope through or promotional efforts we'll be able to enhance the visibility of our national wild life refuges.
Tim: Right. We'll give it one more plug: if you want to find some information online about the refuge system you can go to fws.gov, Director Ashe has a great blog that is right on the home page there too, he tells a lot of great stories about the refuge system so definitely recommend you check that out.
So now we're going to move on to another question. This one is from Neil in Wyoming, and his question is: Will there be funding for the enhancement of the existing Sage Grouse habitat?
Ken: Neil, the Sage Grouse habitat initiative not only in Wyoming but, in 10 other states across the West, is a high priority for us. We have, in the United States, about 42% of the Sage Grouse habitat so Bob Abbey the director of the BLM is leading our Sage Grouse efforts working closely with the Fish and Wildlife service.
Our hope is that in partnership with the states we will be able to map out those lands that have all the sweet spots of Sage Grouse habitat and then be able put in protective measures, whether they're through new refuges or whether through conservation easement by landowners or through the planning efforts of the BLM to make sure that we succeed on saving the Sage Grouse.
And yes, there is money available from different sources, the USDA, for example, is another huge opportunity we have working with the Department of Agriculture and their NCRS program. They're providing money for conservation easements on some of these lands to protect the Sage Grouse habitat. We're going to succeed on this but it's going to be tough because the Sage Grouse habitat covers so many states, 11 states, the politics in those states are different.
In Wyoming we have been able to move forward and we have a very good program underway. We're trying to take Wyoming as a template, as an example of what we're going to do in other states. We're looking to have a program plan that is complete by July 1st that we can then send out to the public on how we're going to spread the Sage Grouse conservation initiative across the western states.
Tim: Thank you. I want to thank everyone again, just going to take a little break here to thank everyone for joining us today. If you're just joining us, the full chat will be available on DOI.gov in the next couple of days. Also if you haven't had the chance to send me your questions, we're getting a lot of great questions on here, keep them coming, we've still got a few minutes to go on this chat. We're going to keep moving along.
Question from the chat, Steve from New Mexico is asking: What role can municipal and agricultural conservation play in maintaining river flows for fish, wildlife and recreation?
Ken: You know Steve, I think they can play a huge role and I think Steve, in your state of New Mexico, in the Middle Rio Grande river, I've had several meetings down there in New Mexico on how we might be able to restore the 100 miles of the Middle Rio Grande for its wildlife refuge values.
Now there's a lot of jurisdictions and lots of issues and huge complexities with it, but I think there is a common view among all the players, the city of Albuquerque, the state of New Mexico, the United States, the tribes and others, that we can move forward with the restoration effort on the hundred mile stretch of the Middle Rio Grande. Director Ashe is working with stakeholders and we expect to have a program in place by the 1st of July on the Middle Rio Grande. It includes the acquisition of Price's Dairy which is a 640 acre farm in Albuquerque that has some of the most important water rights and those water rights will be dedicated to the [inaudible 15:38] flows on the Rio Grande within that section.
So we're making progress and frankly in your state of New Mexico, not only has the City of Albuquerque but also the County of Bernalillo been extremely helpful in terms of moving forward and actually providing some money to be able to help us with these restoration efforts. It's an exciting template, but also what's really exciting about it is that it's happening all over the place. New Mexico is just one example, we'll see these things happening all over the country.
Tim: Great, thank you mister secretary. We've got another question from the chat here, and this question is: What is the best way for Native American tribes to protect cultural resources on public lands outside of reservation boundaries?
Ken: Yeah, I think this is a scenario where we need to make sure that we, in the United States are doing everything we can to protect those cultural resources that are so important to Native American Tribes. We have a new chapter in the United States in our relationship with the nation's first Americans, 565 tribal nations who have come here to Interior for three years in a row to meet with President Obama and me, and other cabinet secretaries.
We put in place the kind of relationship that we have, constant communication and consultation with the tribes. And I know that the issue of the preservation of the cultural resources on public lands for Native Americans is one that is of high priority so, Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk and I, have been working hard to make sure that we're doing everything we can to protect those resources.
Sometimes, it's lead for example in Utah, we have to do a major criminal law enforcement action because of the destruction of some priceless burial grounds and other cultural resources for Native Americans and those people have been prosecuted, those who were destroying those precious resources. So, it's an enforced matter, it's also an educational effort, but at the end of the day, it's about working closely with the first nations of America so, that they know what we're doing and we can be as helpful as we possibly can.
Tim: Thank you Mr. Secretary. We're going to move on to a question about childhood obesity that came in from Sally and her question is, childhood obesity cost the US roughly $3 billion annually and a large part of that is a result of children spending hours indoors rather than outdoors. What can be done on a national level to promote the idea of getting children outdoors?
Ken: Sally, we can promote getting children outdoors, it's been a major effort of the president and his administration. The first lady, Michelle Obama, is about ready to hit the road for three days, to different parts of the country where he's celebrating and counting her Let's Move! Initiative. It's because it's focused and we know it can be very effective in terms of tackling the childhood obesity.
In addition to that, we are working closely with the Department of Education to make sure that we are developing places and schools around the country where people to recognize the importance of the connection between health and outdoor recreation, and at the same time, we're doing the same thing with health and human services. People's health and what they eat, and how much they play outdoors go hand in hand.
Tim: Right. And if you like more information on Let's Move! Initiative, you can go toletsmove.gov, for a variety of ways that you can help promote getting kids outdoors.
All right, so we're going to move to another question here and this is a question related to climate change, and Dan in Pennsylvania asks, do you believe that there's a link between conservation and mitigating climate change?
Ken: Dan, it's an excellent question and the fact is, absolutely there is a link on a number of different fronts. First, we know that our conservation resources are forest and, our grasses and our habitat that is out there essentially serves as carbon sink. And so to the extent that we have this places that we have protected in conservation, they help us address the issue of climate change because they soaked up the CO2, otherwise it's escaping into the atmosphere and creating the warming of our Earth. So, here's that very specific Nexus.
It also is the connection that we know that climate change is happening and it's affecting our conservation values and assets of America. Glacier National Park, I will use as an example because it drives the point home very closely. Glacier National Park was named Glacier National Park because of the glaciers and yet the predictions now, our scientists, is that the glaciers are going to be gone by the year 2020.
That's because you see the warming of the climate. And you see the weather for example this year in the State of Montana, what's happening was the Pine Beetle infestation in the State of Montana because you've had such warm trends that have come from the North down to the Southern parts. Yeah, there's a complete connection between understanding the warming of our Earth and the need for conservation.
Tim: Right. Thank you Mr. Secretary. Now, we're going to move to another question from the chat. And the question says, thank you for significant steps that Interior's made on solar planning on federal lands. What could be done to get the PEIS done this done and to ensure that it protects wildlife and sportsman's access?
Ken: We are on track on solar energy and on the solar PEIS that will set out the road map for solar energy development on federal land in the future for the United States of America. Let me say first, that we are proud of the fact we have done a lot in Interior to show the world that we can make renewable energy a reality.
We will be able to have a, permitted enough solar energy facilities, geothermal and wind energy facilities to power three million homes by the end of this year. That's going to be 10,000 megawatts by the end of 2012. We have move forward with solar energy development especially, we have recognized the importance of making sure that we're also doing it in the right ways. The sportsman's community has been very involved with us.
So as we move forward with mapping out the zones for solar energy will be developed we are deconflicting those zones so we are not coming into conflict with conservation or ecological values. So it's part of our spar from the start effort and we're well on the way to have the plan for the future this year. We will get it done.
Tim: Great. We have another question now that's related to funding for outdoor recreation and conservation. This question is from Vaughn in DC. He writes, "Given that sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts contribute almost $1 trillion to the US economy annually what can we as sportsmen do to convince Congress to continue funding conservation related federal programs?
Ken: You know what? I think letting your member of Congress where you live know about your interest and the importance of funding for conservation. At the end of the day, as much authority as I may think I have, I am Powell's Secretary Interior with members of Congress, I frankly have very little in comparison to the people who live in their congressional districts.
So letting the members of your congressional district know how important conservation is, how important hunting, angling, biking, rafting, all the great things that we do as part of our conservation activities, the members of Congress need to know. It helps a lot when it's the people from their district who are letting them know. Keep investing in conservation because it's good for a lot of reasons.
Tim: Great Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
All right, the next question is from Amber in Colorado. She writes, "Knowing that the Colorado River is an integral part of our Latino heritage and culture, how can the Colorado river supply and demand study help to continue our strong Latino history in the Southwest.
Ken: Amber, first of all, I hear that it's snowing again in Denver. That there's four inches on the ground today and another couple of feet, I think, over the weekend. So I don't know what's happening with the climate but it's crazy.
Ken: But I wasn't there to help shovel out a driveway or a sidewalk over the weekend.
The Colorado River and what it means. It means a lot to a lot of people. It means a lot to some 40 million people who depend on the water of the Colorado River basin. A lot to the more than 10 Indian tribes that have a huge stake in the future of the Colorado River. It means a lot to the many Latino communities founded along the Colorado River basin.
So I think that what I would say, Sally is important here is that more people become aware just like you have, Amber. I think it's Amber who become aware of the great assets that we have along the Colorado River basin. How we take care of the river is really going to define the whole future of the Southwest.
If you think about it from a Colorado perspective, from the great snowcapped Rocky Mountains, that 14,000 foot peak, the Rocky Mountain National Park all the way through the Gunnison Gorge and down through Grand Junction, all the way into Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and all the way into Mexico, it is a
Tremendous asset over which I have a tremendous responsibility.
It's a river that we watch very closely. We have great partnerships with the states and with local organizations on defining the future of the river. Certainly, the effort, Amber, that you have underway in Denver to make sure that the community is connected up from a Latino heritage point of view is a very to us.
Tim: All right. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. We're going to take another question from the chat here. It is good question. It's, "How does the economic benefit of conservation measure up against the economic benefit of Marcellus gas development and how do we calculate the economics of conservation?"
Ken: Well, first on the economics of conservation, that really has been the message that has saved the conservation funding and the conservation agenda for this country in this tough physical climate that we've navigated through the last year. So reminding people about the eight million jobs that are dependent on conservation and outdoor recreation and preservation has been important.
Reminding them that the best economists of the country have said that through tourism and outdoor recreation we can create an additional 2.1 to 3.3 million jobs the next 10 years. Those economic statistics and facts are important for the rest of the world to know.
Now in terms of the Marcellus shale and how you balance that out against conservation, we need to make sure that as development to our natural resources takes place that it's done in a safe and responsible way. For example, on the fracking materials for fracking fluids, we believe, and the President said in the State of the Union that we need to have disclosure. We need to make sure that water quality is being protected. So making sure that there's the appropriate regime in place to safeguard our environment is essential to continuing the conservation legacy of the country.
Tim: Great. Thank you Mr. Secretary. I just want to remind everybody if you're just joining us, this whole chat will be available on doi.gov later this week. We probably have about five minutes left. So, if you've got a real burning question, now would be the time to send it in. So, we'll just keep getting back to the chat and this is another one from online.
The question is related to the BP oil spill. The question is, the conservation community has rallied around legislation to direct clean water penalties from the oil spill back to the Gulf for restoration of the ecosystems. Can you update us on DOI's efforts on these areas?
Ken: Yeah, we're working very hard on it. In fact, today probably I've spent two and a half hours just working on this issue. There are two tracks underway. One is getting ready for work and B, the trial of the century United States against the oil companies and those who were responsible for the pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. There may be a trial. There is another set of discussions going on for the potential settlement.
No matter what happens and how we end up moving forward, it's been the view of the President and it's been my view and the view of my colleagues on the cabinet that, most of the money that comes from solo penalties which should be significant, other penalties as well as the Natural Resource Damages Funds should be the power that drives the largest ecosystem restoration project in the history of the world. That is all intended to restore the Gulf of Mexico to a place where it should be.
For 100 years, the Gulf coast has been degraded decade after decade after decade. We have an opportunity here to do something that we were never able to do frankly as a country. Because we did not have the resources to restore the Gulf Coast. I expect that we will and I expect that we'll be successful in the restoration of Gulf of Mexico.
Tim: OK. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. All right. We're going to take another question from online here. The question is, are there any direct actions being taken to help educate a younger generation of future sportsmen and women about the importance of conservation?
Ken: The answer is yes. Key part of the Presidents' Great Outdoor initiative has been to make sure what we are doing, is creating opportunities for young people to participate in conservation. Here in Interior, we manifest our efforts by hiring 12,000 young people who will be working with us in our parks and refuges and other facilities just this year alone in 2012. So, its 12,000 young people and I meet with them as I often do all around the country. I say that they are the next generation of conservation leaders for America.
I am very proud of them. Just like, I am of you, Tim. I see you as being a great leader and conservation for decades and decades to come. There are literally, I mean this is just one agency, Department of Interior with 12,000 young people. But, we're doing it across the Government. In addition to that our non-profit partners are out there doing the same thing. Local governments are doing the same thing. So, we need to make sure we are making those connections.
One of the most moving things to me is when I go out and I meet with young people who for the first time are experiencing the outdoors and the San Gabriel Mountains in California, for example. Meeting with young people for the first time are coming in from East LA and experiencing the great outdoors. How impactful it is to them and their lives? A corner stone of America's Great Outdoors agenda is to connect young people to conservation and to the outdoors.
Tim: Great. Thank you Mr. Secretary. If you want to get more information on the efforts we're doing on youth, you can go to youthgo.gov. There's a lot of information there about summer employment and other ways you can get involved to help get our youth outdoors in America. It's a really great website.
That is all the time we have for today. We want to thank the National Wildlife Federation and their members for joining us and everybody else who's joined us for this chat today.
I am going to give the Secretary just a few moments to wrap it up. The whole chat will be available on doi.gov/live. If you'd like to connect with us online after this, you can do so on Twitter. Just @ Interior or on Face Book, add US Interior. So, the Secretary Interior view of course is out.
Ken: Thank you very much Tim and thank you all for listening into this chat that we've had here this afternoon from the cafeteria Bison Bistro at Interior. I would say thank you to National Wildlife Federation and to all those of you who have participated. I think our challenges in conservation are many. But, we continue to lead the world as the example for conservation.
As we move forward, we need to make sure we're connecting young people to the Great Outdoors who are working with our partners, the local and state community, the non-profits, to develop a new ethic of conservation that will protect America's rivers, create the next generation of urban parks. And, make sure we were protecting the landscapes of national significance.
From the Crown of the Continent in Montana to the Everglades in Florida to the Long Reef Pine in the South East and all the way to the Flint Hills in Kansas. We're well on our way and I feel good about what we're doing. But, at the end of the day we'll only succeed if there is a strong voice and a march for conservation that everybody can get behind.
We will not win our conservation agenda, if we do not have the voices of conservation being heard in all the halls of power around this country.
Tim: Great. Thanks again Mr. Secretary and thank again everyone for joining us. Until next time, have a great day and we'll see you soon.