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Science for Parks conference, part 4

4. Sally Jewell and the Horace Albright Lecture in Conservation

Presented as a part of the Science for Parks conference, UC–Berkeley’s annual Horace Albright Lecture in Conservation, open to the public on the evening of March 26, treated us with an all-too-brief introduction to Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior since April 2013, and four other illustrious speakers. Jewell was one of the panelists discussing “America’s Two Best Ideas—Public Education and Public Lands.”

To open the event, University of California Chancellor Nicholas Dirks gave a brief address. The panel’s moderator was Michael Krasny, a familiar voice to listeners to San Francisco’s public radio station KQED as host of the station’s morning Forum program. In addition to Jewell, the other two panelists were Janet Napolitano, formerly Secretary of Homeland Security and now president of the University of California, and history professor Douglas Brinkley of Rice University, the author or co-author of some 23 books relating to American history. The entire evening’s event was videotaped and can be accessed at: parksforscience.berkeley.edu.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell
Secretary Jewell was born in London, England, but her family immigrated to Seattle, where she received a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Washington. She and her engineer husband have two children. After working in petroleum engineering and then in banking for many years, she became a board member of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) and then its chief operating officer. She’s an outdoor enthusiast herself, having climbed Mt. Rainier several times.

Listening to Ms. Jewell talk about her work at Interior, we can feel that the department is in very good hands. In fact, her co-panelist, historian Brinkley, pointed out that since the creation of her department in 1849, the work she has done there in less than two years compares well with that of Harold Ickes under President Roosevelt (Interior Secretary from 1933 to 1945) and of Stewart Udall (1961 to 1969) under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Two initiatives taking shape under Secretary Jewell are Every Kid in a Park and the Youth Initiative. Feeling that “the best classrooms are those with no walls,” she is finding a way, beginning in fall of 2015, to give every fourth grader and his or her family a free pass to a national or state park. She intends to continue this program for twelve years. This is a beginning in an effort to change the statistics Jewell quoted: The average American schoolchild spends 56 hours per week in front of a screen and 30 minutes in the outdoors; she says they have a “nature deficit disorder.”

Already in place, another program called the Youth Initiative has begun in 50 cities with the participation of YMCAs and funding from American Express. The program was launched last year “to bridge the growing discontent between young people and the great outdoors” with goals to help children play, learn, serve, and work in outdoor spaces. Jewell cited one unit of the program’s launch, where Miami children learned to dissect small fish in nearby Biscayne National Park. This program will take place in some of the more than 75 urban national parks and other refuges and on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recreational lands.

Secretary Jewell is also deeply concerned with the need to make parks more relevant to American minorities. “People need to see themselves and their stories in the national parks.”

Asked about the role of technology in the parks, she suggested that cell phones can (and in some places already do) give out local information in the voices of people who live nearby, and tech companies (or perhaps even REI!) could develop games involving plants, animals, or invasive species.

As she brought up the water fights in drought-stricken California, Jewell insisted that the parties must get together, stop talking over and around the subject, and solve the problems by finding common ground. “It’s hard to let go of the ‘from’ if you don’t know what the ‘to’ is,” she told us.

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