October 13, 2011
Wild-urban interfaces dominate the Central Coast, with homes, agricultural fields, open space, commercially active waters and protected marine environments all abutting up and down the coast. That unique geography caught the attention of the feds, and America's Great Outdoors Initiative, launched in 2010, has expanded to include three pilot "landscape-scale" projects, one for the Monterey Bay.
That federal backing is more than a seal of approval; since May, the Great Outdoors Initiative channeled about $1 million toward 35 growers—which they matched with private dollars—to implement water quality protection measures, like sediment catch basins or more efficient irrigation systems. As budgets everywhere shrink, it's helped keep afloat the efforts of the Agricultural Water Quality Alliance, a voluntary collaboration among industry groups, researchers and government agencies, including the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Daniel Mountjoy, assistant state conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, says it's because of AWQA's (pronounced "aqua") success that Monterey was selected as a pilot.
"I think America's Great Outdoors lends a broader framework to think about water quality as a management issue that includes agriculture, but also goes beyond to include public lands," Mountjoy says. "Our prior work on water quality was focused on working with just the growers. Now we're working together on public and private land to solve the problems."
The USDA, EPA, U.S. Department of Interior and Council on Environmental Quality, released Wednesday a joint report highlighting recommendations for job-creating, conservation-oriented efforts. Among the priorities: improving urban parks, maintain tax deductions for farmland in conservation, increase financial incentives to allow recreation (like biking and hunting) on privately held land and expand educational outreach to young people on the value of conservation.
Value has more than one interpretation when it comes to the outdoors: The recreation industry generates nearly an estimated $300 billion in annual sales.
"Under the banner of America's great outdoors, President Obama has made it clear that conservation is a priority for this administration," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a statement. "We will continue to invest in land and water projects that have the backing of communities who depend on the job-creating power of the outdoor economy."