Sally Jewell: New U.S. Interior Secretary talks youth engagement and leadership

Former REI CEO, new U.S. Interior Secretary marks her calendar to attend Winter Market 2014.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. 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.

In April, former REI CEO Sally Jewell took the reins of the Department of the Interior, marking the first time a person from the outdoor industry has served in a cabinet-level position.

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It is emblematic of the industry’s growing presence and strength in Washington, D.C., and bodes well for the future of outdoor recreation.

Recently OIA had the opportunity to discuss youth engagement, leadership and recreation access with the long-standing leader in the outdoor industry and shares the interview with O.R.D.

Why is it important for the outdoor industry to have a presence in Washington, D.C.?
Whether you are small retailer or a large manufacturer, the decisions made in Congress and in federal agencies can affect your business. They also affect the American people, determining whether we have the recreational opportunities that promote not only healthier lifestyles but also job creation and economic growth. The outdoor industry can’t assume others are going to tell that story, so it’s important to work directly with the government to help frame the legislative and policy decisions that affect our public lands and our businesses. Some industries have large budgets to spend on lobbyists to make their case. The outdoor industry has many participants in outdoor recreation who can bring a powerful, grassroots voice to Washington, and I encourage people to make their voices heard with elected officials from their regions.

How has the outdoor industry’s impact in Washington. D.C., changed over the past few years? What strategies have been the most important and effective?
ËThe single, most important tool that the outdoor industry developed was OIA’s Outdoor Recreation Economy Report and the accompanying website that puts the economic value of outdoor recreation by state at anyone’s fingertips. These numbers are getting to be well-known on Capitol Hill and have certainly shaped the discussion in a new way. The report, coupled with visits to members of Congress from constituents who represent the broad array of businesses that make up the outdoor industry, has really moved awareness across the country. The message is clear: this isn’t just about fishing rods and kayaks. It’s about putting people to work in a wide range of jobs — from manufacturing to retail to hotels and restaurants — that all benefit directly and indirectly from outdoor recreation.

As an industry, we want to see more youth getting outside. How can industry and government best work together to move the meter on youth engagement?
There’s no doubt that public-private partnerships between government, industry and the non-profit community can achieve what no one sector can achieve alone. Promoting partnerships is a central tenet of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative to reconnect Americans, especially young Americans, with the natural world. And it will certainly be one of my top priorities at the Department of the Interior. Already, we are working with communities, local governments, businesses, and other stakeholders across the country to establish urban parks, hiking trails and other recreational facilities, as well as to promote programs that get young people away from computer screens and into nature. The Centennial of the National Park Service in 2016 will provide a great opportunity to amplify this message, not only for national parks but for parks and open spaces across the country. The outdoor industry has a great opportunity to support youth engagement through cooperative initiatives such as the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) and the First Lady’s “Let’s Move Outside!” program. Outdoor Nation, developed by the industry and The Outdoor Foundation, is a great illustration of a program that promotes leadership and opportunity for young adults who represent the rich diversity of our country. These efforts are helping get more young people outdoors and laying the foundation for a new generation of conservationists, scientists, business leaders, and teachers. The Department of the Interior will see many experienced staff members retire in the coming decade. Efforts to connect youth to the outdoors today will be essential in providing a pipeline of talent essential in stewarding and enhancing public lands for future generations.

Under your leadership, what will the Department of the Interior be doing to identify, conserve, protect and promote important recreation and natural assets like trails, parks, rivers and waterways? What can industry do to help that effort?
Interior is continuing to build on the successes of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors program. This includes facilitating access for all Americans to outdoor recreation opportunities on public lands; expanding close-to-home parks, trails, and other green spaces in urban areas; and protecting and restoring rivers and waterways across the country. Many efforts to enhance and expand outdoor recreational assets have been supported through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) — a critical legislative vehicle created nearly 50 years ago. The President’s 2014 budget calls for a step towards mandatory and full funding of this important program. Continued support from industry in making the case for support of LWCF will be very important in the coming months. My advice to industry would be to speak up and think locally. Let us know what special places need protecting. The America’s Great Outdoors program is rooted in locally driven, community-led conservation efforts. When we hear about on-the-ground efforts that are working to conserve lands and waters for future generations, we can help bring resources to bear and, ultimately, boost opportunities for Americans to enjoy the outdoors.

What one piece of advice would you give young industry professionals and leaders about how to combine their professional careers with public service?
Seize the opportunity to serve others. Volunteer service on our nation’s public lands or in your local park is an excellent way to get started and get involved in your community. Once you’ve helped build a trail or cleaned up a riverbank, you’ll never experience that place in the same way again. For those who may aspire to a career in public service, I applaud your decision. Few opportunities afford an individual the ability to make as big a difference to so many people as public service does. After a long and rewarding career in the private sector, I am grateful for the opportunity President Obama has given me to serve in his cabinet.

Outdoor Retailer attendees will have an opportunity to hear more from Secretary Jewell. OIA has invited her to be the keynote speaker at the Winter Market Industry Breakfast in January.

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