Obama to take victory lap on conservation

Obama to take victory lap on conservation
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The Obama administration is using the first family’s visits to a pair of national parks as a victory lap to highlight the president’s accomplishments on public lands and conservation.

Obama and his family will visit and tour the Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico Friday, before flying out to California to spend the rest of the weekend at Yosemite National Park.

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The trip is meant to highlight national parks and celebrate the 100th anniversary this year of the creation of the National Park Service.

“It is also an opportunity to look back at what this administration has accomplished, and specifically the unprecedented steps that President Obama has taken to protect our nation’s public lands and waters, which are vital components of our local, regional and national economies,” Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told reporters Thursday.

Obama’s sweeping, often unilateral actions on conservation have been some of the most ambitious of any president by various measures.

He has used his power under the Antiquities Act to indefinitely protect from development more than 265 million acres of land and water and designate them as national monuments, more than any previous president.

He is also the first president to take regulatory action to fight climate change, which administration officials say poses a threat specifically to public land and water.

“Our national parks are on the front lines of climate change, and are particularly vulnerable to its impacts,” Goldfuss said. “Stronger storms, worsening droughts, increased flooding and longer wildfire seasons are putting our national parks and natural treasures at risk.”

Obama’s actions in both areas have drawn significant ire from Republicans. They’ve accused him of acting unilaterally without Congress’s involvement, to the detriment of residents near the monuments and the fossil fuel industry.

The Interior Department, which is the federal government’s main land holder, is using Obama’s trip to release its annual report on the economic impact of public land.

“This year’s report shows that our public lands and waters continue to have a huge economic impact on communities across our country,” Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellNational parks pay the price for Trump's Independence Day spectacle Overnight Energy: Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone | UN report offers dire climate warning | Trump expected to lift ethanol restrictions Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone MORE said.

“All told, for fiscal year 2015, activities on our nation’s public lands and waters overseen by the Department of the Interior contributed an estimated $300 billion to the national economy and supported nearly 2 million jobs.”

Visits to national parks hit a new record in 2015, and the visitors put $45 billion into state economies and supported 396,000 jobs, among other findings, Jewell said.

The administration is also using the occasion to highlight various initiatives it's launched to increase access to public lands, like the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, in which fourth graders can get free passes to all of the national parks.

Goldfuss declined to say whether Obama would use the trip to announce any new national monument designations. The administration has reportedly been considering designations for the Stonewall Inn in New York City, an area in Utah important to American Indian tribes and a forested area in northern Maine, among others.