'There's a growing disconnect between people and nature', says Jewell

Posted: Apr 19, 2013

Written by

Phil Taylor, Greenwire
Ranger and kids

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last night said she's looking forward to introducing more Americans to the national parks, warning that there is a "growing disconnect" between people and nature.

Jewell spoke to hundreds of people at the National Parks Conservation Association's annual Salute to the Parks and Park Partners Gala at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Jewell, who was officially sworn in Friday and was formerly vice chairwoman of the NPCA board, said she was attending the event in her personal capacity, as former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar used to do.

"There is a growing disconnect between people and nature, and this group understands we need to do something about that," Jewell said. "How do we make the experiences of parks relevant? How do we bring the outdoors into people's everyday lives? How do we get people to a local park so that they will actually aspire to go to a national park and recognize that this is their public land."

Jewell, who served as CEO of outdoor retailer REI for several years before joining Interior, said her new job is "big and complex."

"I'm taking a drink from the fire hose," she said.

She credited NPCA for mobilizing members and supporters to call lawmakers to urge funding for the national parks. NPCA last week said President Obama's $2.6 billion budget request for NPS -- a $56.6 million increase over 2012 enacted levels -- was a step in the right direction but that more is needed to ensure parks are open and well-staffed, particularly after the sequester (E&E Daily, April 11).

Jewell, who was a key proponent for Obama's America's Great Outdoors program, which sought to engage Americans in outdoor recreation and land stewardship, has made public outreach an early emphasis of her term.

In her first two posts on Twitter on Monday, Jewell said she looks forward to working with her new employees, Congress and constituents, "and to connecting a new generation to America's great outdoors!"

Jewell last night said she saw a silver lining in the destruction wrought by Superstorm Sandy in the opportunities to reinvest in urban parks. She said she looks forward to bringing people from the densely populated Northeast to public lands.

In the audience was Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), who in January sponsored an amendment to increase the House's Sandy aid package by $33.7 billion, including boosting National Park Service construction funding from $234 million to $348 million and providing an additional $50 million for historical preservation.

Also attending last night's event were Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Reps. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who is the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. NPS Director Jon Jarvis, other Interior officials and some key Senate staffers also attended.

Author Terry Tempest Williams was presented with the Robin W. Winks Award for her advocacy of wilderness and threatened species.

Williams, who was featured in Ken Burns' documentary "National Parks: America's Best Idea," delivered a speech calling for greater protections of lands surrounding Utah's Canyonlands National Park and urged the president to utilize his powers to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act. She also lauded the work of former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and criticized proposals by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) to take over federal lands.

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