Obama: 'Our Conservation Effort Is More Critical, More Urgent Than Ever'

By Susan Jones | September 1, 2016 | 6:08am EDT
President Barack Obama speaks during the 20th Annual Lake Tahoe Summit at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys in Stateline, Nev., Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, about the environment and climate change. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CNSNews.com) - Praising Harry Reid as "one of the best leaders that the Senate ever had," President Obama told a gathering in Lake Tahoe, Nevada on Wednesday, "I could not have accomplished what I accomplished without him being at my side."

Obama counts conservation as one of his major accomplishments, as he unilaterally protects vast swaths of land and sea from development, an effort that has noticeably accelerated as he reaches the end of his term.

"Our conservation effort is more critical, more urgent than ever," Obama said on Wednesday. "And we made this a priority from day one. We, as Harry mentioned, protected more acres of public lands and water than any administration in history...Last week alone, we protected land, water and wildlife from Maine to Hawaii, including the creation of the world's largest marine protected area."

Obama planned to visit that marine area off Hawaii on Thursday.

Obama on Wednesday was making his first trip to Lake Tahoe, which he called "spectacular."

"And just as this space is sacred to Native Americans, it should be sacred to all Americans," he said. "And that's why we're here, to protect this special pristine place, to keep these waters crystal clear, to keep the air as pure as the heavens, to keep alive Tahoe's spirit and to keep faith with this truth, that the challenges of conservation and combating climate change are connected. They're linked."

Obama then announced he's taking "three more significant steps to boost conservation and climate action."

"First we're supporting conservation projects across Nevada to restore watersheds, stop invasive species and further reduce the risks posed by hazardous fuels and wildfires. (Those projects include $29.5 million allocated by the Interior Department to remove dead and dying trees along roads and campgrounds to reduce the risk of fires, erosion and pollution of Lake Tahoe.)

"Number two, we're incentivizing private capital to come off the sidelines and contribute to conservation because government can't do it alone. (The Obama administration has set a new goal of achieving $10 billion a year from private and philanthropic investors.)

"Number three, in partnership with California, we're going to reverse the deterioration of the salt in the (Salton) sea before it is too late and that's going to help a lot of folks across the West." (The administration just announced a "package of actions" to support communities surrounding the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, "which is facing a tipping point in environmental degradation.")

"So we're busy," said the president, who has rarely been able to advance his goals by working with Congress.

Obama also took aim at Americans who aren't sold on the reality of climate change.

"You know, we tend to think of climate change as if it's something that's just happening out there that we don't have control over. But the fact is that it is man-made. It's not, we think it's man-made, we guess it's man-made; it's not a lot of people are saying it's man-made. It's not, I'm not a scientist so I don't know. You don't have to be a scientist. You don't have to read or listen to scientists to know that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows us that climate change is caused by human activity.

"And when we protect our lands, it helps us protect the climate for the future. So conservation is critical not just for one particular spot, one particular park, one particular lake, it's critical for our entire ecosystem. And conservation is more than just putting up a plaque and calling something a park. We embrace conservation because healthy and diverse lands and waters help us build resilience to climate change.

"We do it to free more of our communities and plants and animals and species from wildfires and droughts and displacement. We do it because when most of the 4.5 million people who come to Lake Tahoe every year are tourists, economies like this one live or die by the health of our natural resources."

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