Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Park Champion: Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell Talks with NRPA about Her Vision for the Future of Parks, Recreation and Conservation

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Park Champion: Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell Talks with NRPA about Her Vision for the Future of Parks, Recreation and Conservation

Article excerpt

In January 2013, when former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced his plans to resign his post after four years, many naturally assumed that President Obama would appoint another elected official to take his place. Instead, he reached beyond the political sphere and nominated Sally Jewell, a business executive and avid outdoorswoman who was serving as president and CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) at the time. The Senate confirmed her appointment in April 2013, and since then, she's established a reputation as an unconventional leader with big plans for getting Americans involved in the conservation of their public lands.

Secretary Jewell's unorthodox background, which includes positions as an oil industry engineer and a commercial bank executive, has raised a few eyebrows, but her work over the past 11 months speaks for itself. Since she took the reins at the Department of the Interior, which oversees 20 percent of the land in the United States, the agency has announced the provision of $475 million in Hurricane Sandy relief, approved renewable energy projects in Arizona and Nevada that will power almost 375,000 homes, launched an initiative to promote healthy and sustainable food choices at more than 250 food and beverage operations in national parks, outlined a $1.9 billion land buyback program for American Indian tribal nations, allocated $40 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for state-identified outdoor recreation projects, auctioned more than 275,000 acres off the Atlantic coast for wind energy development and successfully weathered a federal shutdown, to name a handful of highlights. Secretary Jewell's dual and often conflicting roles of protecting America's public lands and tapping into them to provide for the nation's energy needs requires a balance often criticized by groups invested in one interest or the other, but she remains unfazed and has received a significant vote of confidence.

"She knows the link between conservation and good jobs," President Obama said at her nomination. "She knows that there's no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress; that, in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand."

Here, NRPA's CEO Barbara Tulipane speaks one-on-one with Secretary Jewell to learn her views on the economic significance of outdoor recreation, her opinions on the best ways to utilize LWCF, her plan to build a million-member youth conservation corps and more.

Barbara Tulipane: Having been the former CEO for REI, you bring a unique perspective to the Department of the interior. What do you see as the link between outdoor recreation, business and our economy, and how has this shaped your goals for your tenure as Secretary of the Interior?

Secretary Sally Jewell: An important tool that the Outdoor Industry Association developed was an economic report and accompanying website that puts the economic value of outdoor recreation by state at anyone's fingertips. The report estimates that consumers spend $646 billion on outdoor recreation each year. The spending directly supports 6.1 million jobs in America and generates $80 million in local, state and federal tax revenues annually. That is a powerful number that helps tell the story of why our public lands are not only important to our health and national identity, but they're also critical to our economy, especially in rural communities.

As I make the case for conservation on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, these numbers are helping shape the discussion in a new way. 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 and public lands. Our goals reflect the importance of America's Great Outdoors to our economy and the opportunity to link thoughtful conservation to economic health. …

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