Interior Sec. Sally Jewell outlines plan for engaging youth in outdoor industry

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell paid a visit to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014, giving the keynote talk at the OIA Industry Breakfast
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 21 – 25. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Like so many Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 attendees, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell walked onto the show floor with a full slate of appointments ahead of her, took a chair at the Woolrich booth and sat down to talk business.

The former REI CEO is no stranger to Outdoor Retailer, but this time, instead of building business-to-business relationships, she encouraged a public-private partnership to address an issue essential to ensuring a bright future for the public lands her department oversees and outdoor industry professionals alike: involving the millennial generation in the outdoors.

Jewell was on the floor after concluding her keynote, “The Future of Recreation, Conservation and Youth Engagement,” at the OIA Industry Breakfast, Jan 22. In her speech, she outlined an ambitious agenda for creating educational, volunteer and work opportunities on the national parks, monuments and wildlife refuges — some 20 percent of the nation’s lands — managed by the Department of the Interior for members of the millennial generation, ages 18 to 33.

“They are very tech-savvy. They tend to be very urban, far more diverse than I see within this room, far more diverse than people that participate generally in outdoor recreation, but very, very interested in doing it and really care about making a difference on our planet,” Jewell said. “So it is up to all of us to make sure that the outdoors and nature are relevant to this generation.”

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That generation soon will be the driving force in boardrooms and public offices, responsible for the business and policy choices that manage public lands. At the Department of the Interior, a third of the 70,000 employees will be eligible to retire in the next five years.

Her vision is for the “Civilian Conservation Corps 2.0,” a workforce modeled on the 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps, which, while providing job training and skills to participants, planted more than 2 billion trees, created 13,000 miles of trail and contributed 8 million days of fire fighting.

She listed goals of reaching 10 million children across 50 cities with educational opportunities in the best classroom in the country — public lands and parks. She’s also aiming to triple the number of volunteers, reaching 1 million, and add 100,000 jobs at the Department of the Interior by 2017.

But Jewell was sworn into office just in time to watch sequestration cut the already tight budget for the Department of the Interior and preside over the department through the government shutdown in October. Not one to mince words, Jewell has called the 16-day shutdown, which required the closure of the national parks and monuments her department manages, “absurd” and “wasteful,” costing an estimated $76 million per day in visitor spending. Representatives in Congress have proposed cutting national parks funding by 13 percent, reducing the Fish and Wildlife Service budget by a third, or cutting the Bureau of Land Management’s operating budget by $90 million.

So she has come to the outdoor industry with a plea.

“I need some help. I’ve got a $20 million goal. I’m not going to wait for Congress to act. I want to stand this up in a hurry,” she said. We just have to get young people out working on the land.”

The Civilian Conservation Corps was funded by the federal government, but Jewell is asking for private companies from the outdoor industry to get involved with this “CCC 2.0” to the tune of millions. The first private contribution already has come in — from American Eagle Outfitters, which has pledged $1 million.

Meanwhile, Jewell will make sure the Department of the Interior has volunteer coordinators and projects ready for these youth corps. Some should be ready to roll out by this spring.

“We at OIA fully support this vision,” said Jennifer Mull, CEO of Backwoods Retail and chair of the OIA board of directors. She had earlier cited research that the average child spends 30 minutes a day playing outdoors, and seven hours a day in front of an electronic screen. “The future of our industry and our nation’s public lands depends on reconnecting people to the outdoors.”

-- Elizabeth Miller

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