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Listening Sessions ‘AGO’ - 7,500 make recommendations to conservation agenda so far

by Steve Bert, Youth Intern

The inaugural event of a the newly formed Senate Outdoor Recreation Caucus was held yesterday, to raise awareness in the Senate about responsible use and conservation of land, and the ways outdoor recreation can help Americans improve their fitness and strengthen the economy.

Hosted by Caucus co-founders Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. and Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, the overall scope and up-to-date progress of America’s Great Outdoors Initiative (AGO) was delved into by a panel of four speakers.  The panel included Amy Salzman, associate director for policy outreach, Council of Environmental Quality, Will Shafroth, deputy assistant secretary, Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Department of the Interior, Harris Sherman, under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment and Dan Kanninen, White House liaison, Environmental Protection Agency.

So far 11 official listening sessions and three community-generated AGO listening sessions, at which administrative officials participated, have taken place. Around 7,500 individuals, including around 1,500 youth have given recommendations to conserve outdoor spaces and to reconnect Americans to the outdoors.

Of the recommendations that have been fielded thus far, some definite themes are emerging.  A few of the biggest hurdles Americans face to connecting with the outdoors come from where and how they live. “Eighty percent of Americans live in cities. Many of them are staying inside with electronic devices…children are spending about half the time I spent outdoors,” Salzman said.

Speaking to the metropolitan lifestyle that the majority of Americans live, Kanninen touched on the importance of urban parks. “The value of small pocket parks can be just as valuable as the coast in the Pacific Northwest.”  Kanninen used Vista Hermosa Park in Los Angeles as an example of a pocket park that makes a significant impact in people’s lives as individuals taking part in the Los Angeles listening session voiced their connection to Vista Hermosa. 

Americans also face a slew of obstacles concerning access to green space and each geographic region calls for a unique solution. A city like New York, for example, is best equipped to bolster its heavy and light rail to provide people access to public land, according to Shafroth. “People want access to land and to have a quality experience while they’re there,” he said.

Listening Sessions will be continuing around the country through September and locations are still being determined. For a list of AGO’s current listening session schedule click here


Photo Caption: Sen.Mark Udall, D-Colo. speaks on the economic and health benefits reaped when Americans spend time outdoors. According to Udall, outdoor recreation contributes over $10 billion annually to Colorado’s economy and $730 billion nationwide. 

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