U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell stopped by San Francisco’s Crissy Field this afternoon to announce the launch of a youth conservation initiative.
The project, which will be organized and funded through a public-private partnership, will provide jobs, training, educational and volunteer opportunities to tens of millions of school-age children and young adults, Jewell said at an afternoon news conference on the grassy field near the Golden Gate Bridge.
She called the initiative “ambitious” in that it aims to “engage youth in a major way to our public lands.”
The department is working with companies such as hydration supply company CamelBak, athletic shoe company Ahnu and Sutter Health to raise about $20 million in private funds to support the project, along with an unspecified amount of federal funding.
Jewell was appointed to the post in April by President Obama. She was previously the CEO of outdoor supply company REI.
The initiative aims to hit many goals by 2017, including creating and bolstering outdoor recreation projects in 50 cities to allow more than 10 million young people to be able to go outside to play.
“Kids need to play…explore, look at green things,” Jewell, a mother of two, said. “Let’s use this national classroom as a place of learning.”
Other parts of the initiative include teaching students in grades K-12 about the environment, conservation and the importance of public land. There will be new online education resources available, and an emphasis on bringing children to the outdoor “classroom.”
“The best classrooms are those that don’t have any walls,” Jewell said.
She said Crissy Field, with programs offered through the National Park Service, Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, is an example of what an outdoor space should offer.
National Park Service spokesman Howard Levitt said “this kind of initiative can only enhance our already robust programming.”
He said San Francisco will serve as a “living example of how this can occur.”
With funding and support from the federal department, he said “we can take it to the next level,” for the dozens of youth programs and thousands of students who participate.
A volunteer component hopes to engage one million volunteers each year at national parks, wildlife refuges and other public spaces. This would triple the number of volunteers that are currently limited by insufficient staffing and coordination, according to department officials.
As part of employment goals, the federal department will offer 100,000 work and training positions to young adults between the ages of 18 and 33, with the hope they will become the next generation of conservation stewards.
The Student Conservation Association, the San Francisco Conversation Corps, North Bay Conservation Corps, Treasure Island Conservations Corps and other similar organizations would be able to offer more opportunities for young people looking for work and experience in a conservation, environmental, or forestry field, Jewell said.
“These are their public lands to care for…and pass onto the next generation,” she said.
Gesturing to a line of uniformed workers from these various organizations standing behind her at the news conference, Jewell said, “I’m committed to making it happen for more people like this.”
Jewell said she is hoping to create something similar to the public work program Civilian Conservation Corps from the 1930s, calling it the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.
As to programming already established in San Francisco, Jewell said, “You get it here.”
She added, “We embrace cities that are already doing a good job.”
More information about the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps is available at http://21csc.org/.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News