Obama: Conservation “More Critical Than Ever” in Combating Climate Change

Stateline, NV—Speaking at the 2016 Lake Tahoe Summit, President Barack Obama praised the many years of work and collaboration that have gone into restoring the Lake Tahoe Region’s environment, and said that conservation and combating man-made climate change go hand in hand.

“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,” Obama said.

Obama was keynote speaker for the 20th annual summit on Aug. 31 and made his first-ever visit to Lake Tahoe, calling it a “spectacular place because it is one of the highest, deepest, oldest, and purest lakes in the world.”

“It’s been written that the lake’s waters were once so clear that when you were out on a boat you felt like you were floating in a balloon. It’s been written that the air here is so fine it must be the same air the angels breathe,” Obama said. “So it’s no wonder that for thousands of years this place has been a spiritual one. For the Washoe people, it is the center of their world. And just as this space is sacred to Native Americans, it should be sacred to all Americans.”

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President Barack Obama was keynote speaker at the 2016 Lake Tahoe Summit in Stateline, Nevada. Tom Lotshaw/TRPA

Making his landmark visit to Lake Tahoe, Obama was joined on the summit stage by Nevada Senator Harry Reid, California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, California Governor Jerry Brown, and Janice Schneider, assistant U.S. secretary for land and minerals management at the Department of Interior.

Traveling next to Hawaii for his recent creation of the world’s largest marine preserve there, Obama also announced new federal funding for additional conservation measures at Lake Tahoe, including $230,000 for projects to reduce stormwater pollution and $25 million for projects to remove hazardous fuels from thousands of acres of forest around the lake to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health.

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Nevada Senator Harry Reid organized and hosted the 2016 Lake Tahoe Summit. He was joined on stage by California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, California Governor Jerry Brown, and Janice Schneider, assistant U.S. secretary for land and minerals management at the Department of Interior. Tom Lotshaw/TRPA

“As a former Washoe tribe leader once said, the health of the land and the health of the people are tied together, and what happens to the land also happens to the people,” Obama said during his 21-minute speech at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys.

“We embrace conservation because healthy and diverse lands and waters help us build resilience to climate change. We do it because most of the 4.5 million people who come to Lake Tahoe every year are tourists, and economies like this one live or die by the health of our natural resources. We do it because places like this nurture and restore the soul, and we want to make sure that’s there for our kids, too.”

Reid, the longstanding Nevada Senator leaving office at the end of this year, organized the 2016 summit and Obama’s visit. Reid, Obama, Feinstein, Boxer, and Brown all praised 20 years of hard work to restore Lake Tahoe’s environment that started with the first summit in 1997, which Reid also organized and was attended by former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

That first summit helped launch the Environmental Improvement Program (EIP), an unprecedented partnership uniting the local, state, and federal governments, the Washoe Tribe, and the private sector in a shared mission to conserve and restore Lake Tahoe’s natural resources.

“President Clinton summed it up properly when he said, and I quote, ‘We have an awful lot of work to do.’ He was sure right,” Reid said.

In the late 1990s, some people questioned if the newly formed Tahoe partnership could restore a 500-square-mile watershed at a critical junction. Tahoe was losing one foot of its famous water clarity each year because of stormwater pollution and erosion from streams damaged by logging, cattle grazing, and reckless development around the lake. “To those critics, Lake Tahoe is better today than it was when we started two decades ago,” Reid said.

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Adam Jensen/TRPA

Over the last 20 years, EIP partners have prioritized and completed nearly 500 projects, investing almost $2 billion to restore Tahoe’s environment and enhance recreation opportunities. Those projects have built 150 miles of bike and pedestrian routes; restored 16,000 acres of wildlife habitat; upgraded 720 miles of roadways to reduce stormwater pollution; protected the lake from invasive species; and cleared hazardous fuels from 65,000 acres of forest to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health.

“Today’s lake summit is a celebration of progress, a celebration of unity, though there is much more work to be done in the future. We won’t be complacent. Our work is not finished,” Reid said.

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A capacity crowd welcomed President Barack Obama in his first-ever visit to Lake Tahoe. Adam Jensen/TRPA

While celebrating the accomplishments of the past 20 years, Reid, Feinstein, Boxer, Brown, and Obama also stressed the need for more work to conserve and restore the Tahoe Region and to make it and the rest of America more resilient to a changing climate.

New global temperature records are being set every month and man-made climate change is threatening even the best conservation efforts, Obama said, touting the work of Reid, Feinstein, Boxer, Brown, and his own administration to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, conserve and protect the environment, improve vehicle fuel economy, and accelerate the spread of clean energy.

“We’ve proven that the choice between our environment, our economy, and our health is a false one. We’ve got to strengthen all of them together … There is no contradiction between being smart on the environment and having a strong economy, and we’ve got to keep it going,” Obama said.

“When scientists first told us our planet was changing because of human activity, it was received as a bombshell. But in a way we shouldn’t have been surprised. The most important changes are always the changes made by us. And the fact that we’ve been able to grow our clean energy economy proves we have agency, we have power. Diminishing carbon pollution proves we can do something about it. Our healing of Lake Tahoe proves it’s within our power to pass on the incredible bounty of this country to a next generation,” Obama said.

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Tom Lotshaw/TRPA

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