I worry about the health of our people, our natural resources and our government institutions. Investing in nature would put us on a stronger path.
As a doctor and scientist, I speak and write often on the well-established connection between the physical, mental and emotional health of people and their natural environment. As a former congressional legislator, I witnessed the synergistic connection between responsible, smart government and cooperative, forward-leaning partnerships that help people from all walks of life thrive and live happier and more fulfilling lives.
But right now, I worry about the health of our people, our natural resources and our government institutions. Getting back to basics for things we all need — healthy land, clean air and water — would be a good start to putting us and our nation on a stronger path. To do that, we need Congress and the administration to fully support our diverse public lands and investments in our natural resources through effective conservation and science programs.
When I served in the Senate, I saw firsthand how healthy lands and waters support our businesses and economies.
More than 24 million jobs are tied to our land — 9.3% of total U.S. employment. More than 7 million of us are employed in outdoor recreation; 17 million of us have agricultural jobs. Forests and fisheries account for another 4.8 million jobs. Even beyond that, natural infrastructure such as reefs, dunes, marshes, floodplains and forests help protect our communities from flooding and other natural disasters.
As Congress shapes the nation’s budget, funding conservation and science programs is essential to sustain the health of our lands and waters. Many of these programs also stretch limited taxpayer dollars through partnerships with farmers, ranchers, companies and communities across the United States.
We should encourage those who represent us in Congress to stand up for nature so nature can do its job sustaining and protecting us. It’s a concept lawmakers from both parties can support. For example:
- The Land and Water Conservation Fund benefits every state — and nearly every county — across the nation, conserving community parks, local ball fields, public trails and critical water supplies. The program provides states the ability to target funding toward local priorities and expands the impact of federal dollars through millions more in matching public and private fund
- The Regional Conservation Partnership Program, created under the Farm Bill to empower communities and support public-private partnerships to find local solutions to tough natural resource challenges, has mobilized more than 2,000 conservation partners who themselves have committed $1.4 billion in financial and technical assistance to on-the-ground projects — nearly two times the amount provided by the program’s federal funds
- Right now, the Environmental Protection Agency faces potentially steep cuts, which would impact regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Since its inception in 2010, the Initiative has funded hundreds of projects to combat invasive species like Asian carp, clean up toxic chemicals, and protect and restore wildlife habitat across the region. The program has also been good for the economy, bringing approximately $2 in economic return for every restoration dollar invested, according to a Brookings Institution report
Congress has the power to support these and other cost-effective programs, as well as the public lands that provide so much to all of us.
Our three-day get away on horseback reminded us how grateful we are to our tradition of bipartisan support for conserving America’s natural resources. Investing in nature is a wise investment in the health and well-being of our nation and the American people. It is a worthy and critical investment I hope Congress will support.
Republican Bill Frist of Tennessee, a heart transplant surgeon and a former Senate majority leader, serves on the Board of Directors of The Nature Conservancy.