Speech: Remarks of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar At the Signing of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009

Last edited 09/29/2021

White House

It is an honor to be here today with all of you who worked so hard, for so many years, to write this new chapter for America's treasured landscapes.

Over the last two centuries, America's best ideas for protecting our vast lands and open spaces have often arrived while our country has faced its greatest trials.

It was in the midst of our nation's bloodiest conflict – the Civil War – that President Abraham Lincoln set aside the lands that are now Yosemite National Park.

It was at the dawn of the 20th century, with our cities and industries growing and our open lands and watersheds disappearing, that President Teddy Roosevelt expanded our national parks and set aside the world's largest system of lands dedicated to wildlife conservation, the national wildlife refuge system.

And it was in the darkest days of the Great Depression that President Franklin Roosevelt put three million young Americans to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. They built the trails, campgrounds, parks, and conservation projects we enjoy today.

In these moments when our national character is most tested we rightly seek to protect that which fuels our spirit.

For America's national character - our optimism, our dreams, our shared stories – are rooted in our landscapes.

We each have places we love. For me, it is the San Luis Valley in Colorado. It is the lands my family has farmed for five generations. The waters of the San Antonio River. The snows on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

As Americans, we are defined most by our people and our places. President Barack Obama is one of those Americans. As a young boy he discovered the beautiful landscapes of America with his grandmother, mother, and sister. They drove from Seattle down the coast to California. They saw the Grand Canyon, the Great Plains, and the Great Lakes. And then: Yellowstone.

Those experiences – those places – bind us together as one people.

Yes, we are in a time of deep uncertainty and economic pain. But for Americans, moments of crisis are opportunities to rebuild, renew, and restore the places we cherish.

We are now at such a moment in our nation's history. A transformational moment. A new beginning, led by a president who tells us it is time once again for America's best ideas.

It is time once again to create for our children, and our grandchildren, a legacy of stewardship on the scale of the challenges we face.

Our population has nearly doubled since President John F. Kennedy created the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1964. And though we have made progress, our open lands, wetlands, and wildlife are still disappearing.

But in a few minutes, President Obama will sign legislation that represents one of the most significant protections for our treasured landscapes in a generation. He will do so less than 100 days into his presidency.

This legislation will put into law the 26-million acre National Landscape Conservation System within the Bureau of Land Management. It will add 2 million acres of new wilderness across the country. It will preserve 1,000 new miles of wild and scenic rivers. And it will better protect some of America's most special places - from Oregon's Mount Hood to the dinosaur tracks of New Mexico to Virginia's wild forests.

This bill is a Herculean first step in President Obama's agenda for our open lands.

It would not have happened without the patient and tireless efforts of the people in this room and Americans across the country: hard-working citizens who are saving historic sites in their communities so that we never forget our past; tribal leaders who are forging solutions to complex and long-standing natural resource challenges; mayors and county commissioners who are protecting the backcountry for hunting and fishing and hiking; business leaders who know that good stewardship makes good economic sense; and the many members of the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats – including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi - whose leadership and persistence made this possible.

This historic legislation lays the foundation for the agenda for America's treasured landscapes that President Obama asked me to work on.

I am proud this bill is here today. I am proud of the bipartisan work that went into it. And I am honored to introduce to all of you the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

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