SALT LAKE CITY — Climate change, constrained budgets and disconnected youths are top threats to public lands, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Wednesday, imploring the Outdoor Industry Association to lend its voice to protect the country’s greatest natural resources.
Jewell, who became Interior secretary nine months ago, gave the keynote address in Salt Lake City at the opening day of the association’s Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, which annually draws 22,000 people to Utah.
The Washington native and former head of REI detailed a multi-pronged campaign to infuse new dollars and renewed stewardship over the country’s wild places, including an ambitious reincarnation of the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps to connect young adults with the outdoors.
Jewell said she is not waiting for Congress to act and will carve out private monetary support for the launch of the $20 million program this spring to provide 100,000 outdoor jobs over a four-year period.
While modern-day D.C. is often mired in lethargy and plagued by an inability to get things done, Jewell said, that wasn’t the case in 1933, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps.
She noted that it took 10 days to get the program approved by Congress once it was unveiled. Eight days after that, the first employee was hired, and, by another 10 days, the first work camp was established.
"When we choose to move, we can move," she said.
By just a few months later on July 1, nearly 500 camps employing a quarter of a million young men had been established across the country.
“There are lessons we can learn from those young men who served,” she said. “It gave them a connection to place that is very, very strong that never leaves.”
Jewell also spoke of the Interior and Forest Service's initiative to “engage” 10 million young people with the outdoors — be it through a city park, county or state park or Interior-department managed lands.
The effort will partner the agency with 50 cities across the country so that young people can find instruction and inspiration in the “greatest classrooms — the ones without walls,” Jewell noted. The campaign will be augmented with a million volunteers who work to improve landscapes, tutor in nature and build teamwork, she said.
During the morning events, Jewell introduced Californian Brandon Benton, a Youth Conservation Corps member who once dropped out of high school but found a pathway to success through the program, ultimately graduating and becoming a crew supervisor as a paid employee.
Bolstering America's love affair with the great outdoors will help provide resources to natural landscapes to fight threats such as drought, wildfires and invasive species, she said. In the arena of dollars, the outdoor recreation economy's annual contribution of $646 billion can effect change in a loud way to help shape public policy and become integral in decision-making.
"If you want to have people advocating for the importance of public lands, you have to be at the table and more importantly grow a crop of elected officials who get the importance of the outdoors," she said.
At a press conference afterward, Jewell weighed in on a variety of Utah-related topics, noting that the use of the Antiquities Act to designate new national parks or monuments should be used sparingly; rules regarding methane emissions from oil and gas industry activity need to be updated to help improve air quality in places like the Uinta Basin; and political movements to wrest control of public lands contravene the idea they belong to everyone.
She added that the value of those public lands was no more apparent in Utah than when the federal government shutdown forced the closure of its national parks, leading to "frantic calls" to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
"It is clear the citizens of Utah and its communities get tremendous benefit from public lands," she said.
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