The Nature Conservancy participates in the Earth Day March for Science on the National Mall in Washington, DC, April 22, 2017.
TNC Marches for Science The Nature Conservancy participates in the Earth Day March for Science on the National Mall in Washington, DC, April 22, 2017. © Lawrence Jackson

Land & Water Stories

Nature Unites Us

Nature brings people together, even across the political divide in Washington.

Kameran Onley Director of U.S. Government Relations

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The lands and waters of the United States are more than just its beautiful natural features. They are the very foundation of its security, way of life and all life itself.

For the farmers that tend their fields, the rangers that protect our parks, the guides that navigate our waters, the communities that depend on nature for their livelihoods and for countless others in United States, nature brings its people together and within it can find common ground.

That common ground even extends across the political divide in Washington at a time when it seems nothing can bring lawmakers together.

Over the last year, we’ve seen Congress pass critical funding to combat wildfires, permanently reauthorize America’s most successful conservation program, support both farmers and conservation of private lands with passage of the Farm Bill and invest in water resources infrastructure.

These are immense policy wins and a testament to the importance and benefit of investing in nature. It is a reminder that nature unites us.

But we can’t stop there. Lawmakers in Washington can build on these victories and support two critical next steps that we know are win-win solutions for the planet and its people.

Step 1: Invest in Nature

A first step is to invest more in nature. These investments – whether it be toward conserving forests or protecting wetlands or expanding wildlife habitat – not only benefit the environment, but actually keep communities safer, healthier and more resilient.

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Fund the LWCF

One major opportunity for that investment is funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund at the full $900 million per year authorized by Congress. This funding comes from offshore oil and gas revenues, not tax dollars, and goes toward conserving important places across the country.

Create Resilient and Natural Infrastructure

Another investment opportunity is to ensure the upcoming transportation bill requires new roads, bridges and other infrastructure to be resilient to our changing climate. And, the bill should include “natural infrastructure.” This means features such as reefs or wetlands that help protect communities from storms and floods, either alone or in combination with more traditional infrastructure such as seawalls or levees.

Even a small investment in conservation goes a long way, not only benefiting nature but also boosting the economy, improving public health and creating jobs. The outdoor recreation economy in the United States alone is responsible for $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Step 2: Act on Climate Change

The second step is to take action on climate change. Congress can help protect against climate change impacts with approaches that reduce risk while creating economic benefits. Practical solutions to the climate challenge – such as boosting energy efficiency, investing in renewable energy sources and putting a price on carbon emissions – will create jobs, increase consumer choices and lower costs for businesses and individuals.

Congress should also invest in strategies that use nature as a part of the climate solution, including expanding forests and healthy soil practices to better trap carbon emissions. These and other solutions will help achieve a cleaner, healthier future for all.

People from all walks of life and any political party can get behind solutions like these. Nature is a smart investment, a priority for constituents and a nonpartisan solution for economic growth, public health and quality of life.

Now is the time to set a course for nature that we can be proud of, to create the kind of triumph we can look back on with pride. Let’s celebrate the wonder that is nature and unite to save it. 

Kameran Onley serves as The Nature Conservancy's director of U.S. government relations. She joined TNC as Director of US Marine Policy in July of 2010. In this capacity, she lead TNC's engagement with Congress, Federal agencies, and partners to achieve The Nature Conservancy's marine conservation goals.