Interior Secretary Jewell announces $20 million campaign to educate future wilderness stewards

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell speaking at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey earlier this month as part of her nationwide tour to address national conservation issues.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Secretary of the Interior announces new youth conservation initiative during speech in San Francisco, CA.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced a major conservation campaign aimed at inspiring America's next generation of wilderness stewards, during a speech in San Francisco's Crissy Field on Thursday, Nov. 7.

The Interior's $20 million campaign, backed by wilderness outfitters such as CamelBak and athletic shoe company Ahnu, will provide jobs, career training and educational programs to students. Tens of millions of school-age children and young adults will also benefit from volunteer opportunities in America's national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands.

Sec. Jewell called the initiative “ambitious” in that it aims to “engage youth in a major way to our public lands.”

The campaign is driven by a nationwide effort largely pioneered in California to improve access to national parks for students, minorities and urban youth, an alarming number of whom have never been out of their neighborhoods, let alone to a national park.

The Interior hopes to raise enough money to create outdoor recreation and education opportunities for 10 million young people in 50 cities and to attract a million volunteers per year to help administer the programs.

The impetus behind the need to get youth outdoors and involved in environmental causes was a 2009 report by the National Parks Second Century Commission, which outlined an alarming trend by young people to simply reject nature.

Polls have shown that as many as 30 percent of teenagers in the country do not participate in any outdoor nature activities, including hiking, fishing and even playing on the beach. That's at least a 50 percent decrease over the past two decades.

"There is a growing disconnect between young people and the great outdoors, and it's a gap that Interior has the power to help bridge," said Jewell, who hosted a roundtable discussion about the subject with local nonprofit groups, outdoor-oriented business leaders and health organizations.

“These are their public lands to care for…and pass onto the next generation."

During a Q&A session after her speech, Sec. Jewell reiterated her call to action for striking a smart balance between development and conservation on America's public lands. Jewell praised the renewable energy development "that is happening in the Mojave," citing this as an example of how development can be directed towards low-conflict areas on a landscape scale.

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Sec. Jewell also called on Congress to approve full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) this year. The LWCF is one of the most important and successful tools Americans have when it comes to increasing access to the great outdoors and bolstering rural economies. The LWCF, funded entirely through offshore oil royalties, conserves irreplaceable lands and improves recreational opportunities for enjoyment by all Americans.

The Wilderness Society applauds the Secretary’s commitment to environmental education and stewardship, as well as her dedication to responsible energy development on America's public lands. We look forward to working with the Administration to outline specific efforts across the country that develop and support of these issues.