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DOI Secretary Jewell Meets the Future: the Next Corps of Conservationists
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell sees fostering the next generation of conservationists as a priority. In a speech last fall, Jewell said it’s critical to establish meaningful connections between young people and the outdoors for “the health of our economy and our public lands.”
Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development recently introduced Jewell to young people who are more than ready to take over as “the next generation of stewards of our public lands.” Four of the five winners of SFRED’s national essay contest, “The Importance of Public Lands to Me,” traveled to D.C. to meet Jewell, Mary Wagner, associate chief of the Forest Service, and members of Congress. The sportsmen’s coalition, led by the National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, agrees with Jewell that the fate of our backcountry, national parks, fish, wildlife, free-flowing rivers and open expanses rests greatly on how much young people understand, experience and value the outdoors.
The Future is in Good Hands
“Reading the essays of these young hunters and anglers gives me great hope that our public lands will be in good hands in the future,” said Brad Powell, senior policy director of the Sportsmen’s Conservation Project at Trout Unlimited.
The winners come from across the country. They are: Noah Davis, 18, Tipton, Penn., a first-year student at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Penn.; Rebecca Brown, 17, Conrad, Mont.; Haley Powell, 17, Rock Springs, Wyo.;Jarred Kay, 17, Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Matthew Reilly, 18, Palmyra, Va.
Kate Zimmerman, NWF’s public lands policy director, was one of the SFRED representatives who spent time with the teens in D.C.
“Their enthusiasm for wildlife conservation is contagious. It’d be nice to be able to bottle it and use it on days when you’re working hard and it seems like you’re not making progress,” Zimmerman said.
“Our youth essay contest winners were great ambassadors for their states, for their peers, and for conservation. They epitomize the next generation of leaders that will help protect our public lands and protect our hunting, fishing and outdoor heritage,” said Ed Arnett, director of TRCP’s Center for Responsible Energy Development.
The young writers and conservationists were enthusiastic about being recognized. Noah, who is in college, couldn’t make the trip, but said the importance of public lands “is an issue I care deeply about.” For people to protect wilderness, “they need to love it.”
The f our students who went to D.C. believe that the policy and decision makers care a great deal about the public lands and natural resources they’re charged with overseeing.
They also believe people were happy to hear from them. It’s important that people in Washington know that youths value public lands, Matthew said.
The Key: Getting Kids Outdoors
Interior secretaries aren’t the only people concerned that too many kids aren’t spending enough time outdoors. “Especially with all the electronic media we have today, the outdoors can often be overlooked and so can the beauty and power that is held there,” Jarred said.
In their writing and conversations, the teens said they were grateful for the opportunity to spend a lot of time outdoors with family and friends. Rebecca wrote in her essay: “The future inhabitants of this nation deserve to have the same positive experiences I’ve had, to drink the fresh water, breathe the clean air, and take full advantage of the opportunities to use public lands without the huge personal investment into private ownership that so many of us cannot afford.”
And they all agreed it’s imperative that people their age recognize the importance of public lands.
“There needs to be a plan for the future and the only way to have a future is to inspire the next generation to care,” Haley said. “I believe that education and exposure are the keys to youth involvement.”
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