Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund: Congress Must Act to Fulfill Commitment to Communities

    For 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been one of the most popular and effective tools used to protect and restore special places like the Everglades. By reinvesting revenues from offshore oil and gas development, the Fund has made it easier for people to enjoy to the outdoors for hunting, fishing, and other recreation and protected iconic places like National Parks and Civil War battlefields. And, as Secretaries Vilsack and Jewell noted in an Earth Day op-ed, “the law has been regarded as one of the most successful programs for recreation and conservation investments in our history.”

    But if Congress doesn’t act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire in September.

    That’s why, when President Obama visited Everglades National Park on Earth Day, he called on Congress to reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Fund has supported our work to restore the natural water flow of the Everglades, and other important restoration and conservation efforts across the country.

    CEQ President Obama in the Everglades

    President Obama visits Everglades National Park on Earth Day 2015, where he called on Congress to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

    Just this week, the Department of the Interior announced that investments from the Fund would be used to enhance parks in eight cities’ underserved neighborhoods. Three million dollars in investments will be used to renovate damaged storm water systems, protect wildlife habitats, and provide outdoor education programs. These types of investments are critical for getting more young people connected to the outdoors.

    And today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the Fund has been used to protect another treasured place: the historic Campbell property within the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. With support from the National Park Service, the Conservation Fund purchased the 317-acre property last year and conveyed it to the U.S. Forest Service. The new protections preserve portions of the Appalachian Trail and the Spy Rock scenic overlook, support unique wildlife habitats and ecosystems, and provide new access for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreational activities.

    None of this would be possible without the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

    Secretary Jewell hit the road earlier this month to make the case for full funding, talking with landowners, battlefield preservationists, wildlife biologists, and a variety of other leaders and citizens about how their communities benefit from the Fund.  At the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Georgia, Atlanta, area residents enjoy hiking, biking, and other recreational activities along a beautiful stretch of the Chattahoochee River – all because of the Fund. And in 2014, visitors spent over $123 million and supported over 1,700 jobs – clear evidence that smart conservation efforts strengthen local economies. And the Fund can do even more to benefit the community. Secretary Jewell also visited the Appomattox Court House National Historic Park in Virginia, where she toured the site of some of the Civil War’s final battles. Here, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been leveraged to expand the park and recently helped protect the area around McClean House – the site where, 150 years ago this week, the Civil War effectively ended with Robert E. Lee’s surrender. The Fund has preserved historically significant sites like this all over the country.

    Though these two places are very different, the message she heard was the same: Americans want to see investments in the parks and public lands they love. They want to protect special places that celebrate our natural heritage and rich history, and they want to make sure more Americans have access to safe outdoor spaces and natural landscapes.

    It’s time for Congress to honor the bipartisan commitment made over 50 years ago and ensure that our children and grandchildren get to enjoy America’s treasured outdoor spaces the same way we have.

    Christy Goldfuss is Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

     

  • Sentinel Landscapes: Win-Win-Win for Military Readiness, Conservation, and Agriculture

    Military installations across the country support weapons testing and troop training that help keep America safe.  Yet the capacity of military bases to provide these critical defense capabilities also depends on compatible uses of the private and other government lands that surround installations and ranges.  Working agricultural lands are often more compatible neighbors to noisy or otherwise disruptive military activities than dense housing and development.  Those same areas that can buffer military bases also provide food and forest products as well as wildlife habitat and clean water, all of which are also important to our national security.

    Today, we are happy to recognize our second round of “Sentinel Landscape” partnerships being designated in Arizona, Maryland, and Delaware—Fort Huachuca and Naval Air Station Patuxent River.  Implemented jointly by the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Department of the Interior (DOI), these partnerships support efforts to maintain working agricultural lands, build strong local economies, protect at-risk wildlife and water supplies, and ensure the readiness of our military.  Between federal, state, private, and non-profit local commitments, partners have committed over $25 million to these landscapes from 2014 through 2017.

    Around Arizona’s Fort Huachuca, DoD, the U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working with the state government and the Arizona Land and Water Trust to reduce unsustainable subdivision and development near the Fort’s training areas and airspace.  This partnership will help to keep 5,000 acres of ranchland in production, restore grasslands and wetlands, and implement the State of Arizona’s Forest Action Plan.  All of these actions support Fort Huachuca’s mission as the leading training area for unmanned aircraft system training in the Western United States.  Work in this Sentinel Landscape will be especially important in protecting local groundwater supplies and maintaining rare stream and wetland habitat.

    The new Sentinel Landscape in Maryland and Delaware is centered on the Navy’s Patuxent River-Atlantic Test Ranges, known as ‘Pax River.’  DoD and other agencies have already protected nearly 3,000 acres of surrounding fields, farm, and forests to buffer aircraft flight zones.  Future actions will help benefit wildlife and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, including work along the Nanticoke River corridor.  Pax River is the Navy’s premier aircraft research, development, and testing area.  Lands and waters within the Sentinel Landscape boundary support prime fishing and other recreation for local residents and help sustain populations of more than 260 rare plant and animal species.  

    The Administration launched the pilot Sentinel Landscape partnership in 2013 at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington State’s Puget Sound region.  Since then, Federal agencies have been working with state and local government and private landowners to preserve and restore habitat around the joint Army-Air Force base to protect at-risk wildlife and ensure that military training can proceed unimpeded.  The joint base supports 43,000 soldiers and airmen for maneuver training and land-warrior system testing, and encompasses more than 90 percent of remaining prairie grasslands in the region.  The partnership is currently pursuing a 745 acre prairie acquisition project with funds from DoD, Washington State, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, moving them closer to the goal of conserving an additional 5,600 acres by 2020.  USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is also pursuing additional working lands easements, and local partners are making progress with stewardship demonstration projects and the reintroduction of federally-protected native species such as the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.

    The Administration is proud of these partnerships that bring together so many partners around a shared opportunity that benefits the Nation’s defense, natural resources and food production. 

    For more information, you can visit www.sentinellandscapes.org.

    Jay Jensen is Associate Director for Land and Water Ecosystems at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Driving renewable progress in the Federal Government

    Earlier today, the Administration announced new actions to drive growth in the solar industry while also supporting our veterans. Since the President took office, solar electricity generation has increased 20 fold, doubling last year alone.

    In the Federal Government, we’re doing our part to drive solar growth. On Wednesday, I visited the Army’s Fort Detrick base in Maryland to break ground on an exciting new solar energy project. The project – which includes more than 60,000 solar panels across 67 acres – will help the base meet its electricity needs by producing 15 megawatts of renewable solar energy, enough to power approximately 2,500 homes.

    Projects like this are a great example of how Federal facilities are making huge strides toward cleaner energy production and greater energy independence. They also help ensure that the Federal Government does its part to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. For example, the Fort Detrick solar array will cut greenhouse gases by 19,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. That’s equivalent to the carbon absorbed by more than 487,000 trees.

    CEQ Fort Detrick Groundbreaking 4.1

    On Wednesday, April 1, the Army broke ground on a 15 MW solar project at Fort Detrick. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

    Last year, through the Capital Solar Challenge, the President challenged Federal agencies and military installations to deploy more solar energy on rooftops, covered parking, and open land. The Fort Detrick groundbreaking marked the first project launched under the Challenge.

    And it’s not just the Army stepping up. Other Federal agencies and branches of the U.S. Military are making progress to meet the President’s goals. Also this week, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced a project to produce 5 megawatts of solar on nine GSA and U.S. Forest Service rooftops in California and Nevada. GSA also awarded two contracts for a total of 81 megawatts of new grid-based solar in Maryland. This project is part of a larger green power initiative issued last year for grid-based green power across regional markets, including a 140 MW wind project in Illinois.

    The Navy has found success using a similar regional model. They have already announced plans to install new renewable energy projects to power 14 installations in California, and up to 55 megawatts of new renewable for three installations in Texas, as well as new projects for ten Naval installations in the Mid-Atlantic. The entire Department of Defense is leading the way, making significant progress toward their Climate Action Plan goal of deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025. Over the past year, the Air Force developed a 16 megawatt solar array at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona and plans to expand its use of renewable energy with more than 160 megawatts under development. And in addition to the project at Fort Detrick, the Army has announced three 30 megawatt solar arrays at installations in Georgia, the first of which is breaking ground later this month.

    All of this progress has an impact outside the Federal Government. For example, the Department of Defense’s steadfast commitment to deploying renewables is driving the development of clean energy technologies across the sector. And by leveraging private sector financing through energy savings performance contracts, they are making these strides without costing taxpayers an extra dime.

    This is what leading by example look like. All of these projects will help the Federal Government meet the President’s new goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from 2008 levels by 2025. As President Obama continues to take action to curb emissions and support clean energy, he will continue to rely on the impressive leadership Federal agencies are showing.

    Christy Goldfuss is Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Partnering to Save our Endangered Species

    Ed. Note: This blog post introduces you to Michael Bean, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.

    America supports more than 200,000 unique plants and animals, making us one of the top 10 countries in the world for our wildlife diversity.  Our Endangered Species Act (ESA) represents one of the world’s first and best laws designed to protect species.  We are proud of the constant innovation that has made us more effective at saving special species and places that matter to all Americans. 

    Last month, a small fish called the Oregon chub, was declared the first fish to be recovered and taken off the endangered species list.  It joins 30 other plant and wildlife species successes announced since President Obama took office, including fully recovered ones and others that never needed federal protection because private and government action turned them around in time. 

    And now, we have the opportunity to see more of the public-private partnerships that make those recovery successes possible. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the approval last week of the first conservation banks that will bring private investment and a market-based approach to conservation efforts in Wyoming. 

    Conservation banks are an innovation in endangered species policy first launched in 2002, with more than 130 banks now established.  At a bank site, private investors or local government permanently protect property and restore habitat to create ‘credits’ measured by the level of endangered species benefits produced.  Once benefits for species have been achieved and measured, credits are released and can be used to offset harm that may be caused by a development project happening elsewhere. Conservation banks are just one example of the flexible, win-win approaches possible under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that help spur wildlife recovery, support farmers and ranchers, and facilitate progress on infrastructure projects. 

    The new conservation bank in Wyoming is part of an 11-state effort to save a bird called the greater sage grouse.  The privately-funded bank will allow impacts in low quality habitat, for example from oil and gas drilling, to  be offset with credits for protecting and enhancing habitat in the most important landscapes for the bird’s survival and recovery.  The bank protects more than 100,000 acres of high quality habitat for this iconic Western bird now being considered for listing under ESA.      

    The now-recovered Oregon chub benefited from ‘safe harbor’ agreements with private landowners in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Those landowners have allowed fish to be reintroduced to ponds and streams on their property in exchange for the promise that they will face no additional regulation as a result of their good actions.  More than 40 percent of chub populations are on private lands whose owners are voluntarily participating with this or other federal and state programs.  

    Through tools like the ones described above, there are already more than 62 million acres of non-federal land across the country where partnerships between local government, private landowners and federal agencies allow wildlife recovery and other activities to fit together.  That’s an area bigger than the State of Minnesota.  We will continue to find innovative and effective ways to make wildlife conservation efforts more successful while allowing businesses and local communities to thrive. 

    Michael Bean is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the U.S. Department of the Interior. 

  • Discovering America’s Public Lands, City by City

    President Barack Obama signs a proclamation regarding the establishment of the Pullman National Monument

    President Barack Obama signs a proclamation regarding the establishment of the Pullman National Monument at the Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy in Chicago, Ill., Feb. 19, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


     

    No matter who you are, no matter where you live, our parks and our monuments, our lands, our waters -- these places are the birthright of all Americans.

    President Obama, February 19, 2015

    With more than 80 percent of families living in urban areas, finding safe, open spaces to enjoy time outdoors can be a challenge for many Americans. Children, especially, are spending less time playing outside than ever before. But when children get the chance to explore the outdoors and experience nature in America’s unparalleled public lands and waters, they can learn an appreciation that will last a lifetime. It’s our responsibility to give them that chance.

    That’s why last month President Obama issued a call to action to get all children to visit and enjoy America’s great outdoors. And today, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell launched the 50 Cities Initiative to engage the next generation of outdoor stewards.

  • Protecting Vital Waters as Marine Sanctuaries

    Forty years ago, President Ford approved the designation of the country’s first marine sanctuary — the USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, protecting the shipwreck of one of the most famous Civil War ironclads. Since then, 13 other marine protected areas have been added to the Sanctuary system, encompassing more than 150,000 square miles of ocean along our coasts, in the Great Lakes, and near the Hawaiian islands and American Samoa.

    Like the Monitor, some of these sanctuaries and monuments provide insight into our nation’s history. Others protect areas rich in biological diversity and significant for scientific research and discovery. Many are economically valuable for fishing, tourism, and recreation. Together, the network of sanctuaries helps preserve a natural resource that all Americans depend on, no matter where they live: a healthy and thriving ocean.

    Bowling Ball Beach

    And now, the Obama administration is making that treasured network even stronger. NOAA announced today that it is expanding two existing sanctuaries off California’s North-central coast. The expansion will more than double the current size of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries, ensuring that we are protecting all that the region has to offer — from its biologically rich habitats primed for fishing and scientific research to the seascapes and shipwrecks that attract tourists and explorers.