Sun Editorial:

Promoting conservation

Obama administration is forward-thinking in preserving land, water resources

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011 | 2 a.m.

If you want to discover one of the wonderful things about America, hop in a car, drive out of town and enjoy the outdoors. You’ll find the world’s greatest collection of national parks, scenic byways and bucolic rural settings. You’ll breathe plenty of fresh air and, if you’re fortunate, you’ll spot a herd of antelope, a white-capped river or a field of wildflowers.

These are the types of experiences the Obama administration rightly wants this country to do a better job of preserving. In a report released last week, “America’s Great Outdoors: A Promise to Future Generations,” the administration provided a thoughtful blueprint on what it will take to protect the nation’s open spaces. Among the admirable recommendations are creation of a conservation service corps to enlist young Americans in public land and water restoration, increased and improved access to recreational areas, and greater investment in urban parks and community green spaces.

Supporters of the report include Gordon Robertson, vice president of the American Sportfishing Association, who said: “One of ASA’s major requests was for increased opportunity for anglers to participate in federal management decisions that could impact sportfishing in the U.S. This administration has continually said it is determined to work hand-in-hand with sportsmen and women on this initiative ... and we are pleased that many of our community’s suggestions are reflected in the final document.”

Conservation of natural resources does more than preserve land and waterways and create the jobs that go with those efforts. There are also enormous health benefits. Studies have shown that children who spend considerable time outdoors are far less likely to become obese than their counterparts who sit at home, plugged into the latest electronic devices. Experiencing nature can also lower stress and anxiety.

This is certainly not the first time an administration has laid out sweeping conservation measures. Responsible land stewardship and other conservation measures date at least as far back as President Abraham Lincoln, who initiated preservation of California’s Yosemite Valley. President Theodore Roosevelt advanced the cause by protecting 230 million acres as national forests, parks, wildlife refuges and preserves, and he established national monuments. President Franklin Roosevelt found a way to generate jobs in post-Depression America to help conserve and develop natural resources.

But there have also been occasions when conservationists have faced opposition from those who don’t fully appreciate the great outdoors. The latest example are House Republicans, who proposed deep cuts in the Land and Water Conservation Fund that gives states and federal agencies the financing to conserve America’s natural resources and promote outdoor recreation. Republicans are simply going too far in their zeal to slash the federal budget.

Congress instead should approve the Obama administration’s recommendation to maximize the amount the fund can spend in a year, which is $900 million, money that comes from oil and gas drilling activities. Our natural resources are too precious to squander. If we wish to preserve the great outdoors for future generations, we should act responsibly today.