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Will Rogers

Will Rogers

Posted: February 17, 2011 06:33 PM

Two things struck me as I sat in the East Wing of the White House late yesterday afternoon, listening to President Obama release his America's Great Outdoors report.

The first was that we have a president who truly understands, and is committed to, the responsibility he, and all of us, have to protect our nation's wonderful legacy of natural splendor. And he emphasized that all of us need to be able to connect with the outdoors, no matter where we live. And that includes the 80 percent of Americans who live in cities.

The second was the profound difference between the president's view of the future and that being proposed by the House of Representatives. In recent days, the House has voted to sharply curtail so many of the programs which are the basis of a sound, healthy environment. These programs include the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has protected land enjoyed by millions of American families, and those at the Environmental Protection Agency that protect our water and air as well as clean up toxic sites and address the effects of climate change.

The president made it clear that he values our inspirational wild places and the world's greatest system of national parks. But at the same time, it was also good to hear him talk about how local parks and open spaces in our cities are so critical. Like the president, I used to live in Chicago, and because we know that not everyone in our cities can get to national parks, we need to provide places which are close to home where people can connect with nature.

And as a fellow parent, it was also good to hear the president talked about the need to get our kids to turn off the television or the computer, and get outside and play. This was further emphasized by the mention of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative.

At The Trust for Public Land, we believe everyone should live within a 10-minute walk to a park, and we're working in Chicago, New York, Newark, Los Angeles and other cities across the country to turn that vision into a reality.

At the same time, it is dismaying to see what the House of Representatives is doing as it prepares a federal budget for the current fiscal year.

Certainly, it is very important to scrutinize the federal budget and reduce spending. That's something every American family is doing to their budgets these days, and Washington should do the same.

But the House is acting in haste, by taking a meat axe to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is a cornerstone of the President's recommendations for protecting and enhancing our natural heritage -- and the program doesn't even receive any taxpayer money.

Money for the LWCF comes from the oil companies, who pay into it when they lease federal land to drill for oil and gas. Cutting the LWCF doesn't cut the federal deficit; it only slashes a program which protects places like the Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania, honoring some of the heroes of Sept. 11, 2001.

When the House is done, the budget bill is sent to the Senate, and let's hope the Senate takes a second look and concludes that we should be investing in programs which protect our land, our water, and our parks. After all, if we do not protect these precious entities, who will?