Q&A: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell


Connecting Youth to Nature: National Parks Week

It’s National Park Week!  SCA recently caught up with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and talked about national parks, connecting youth to nature, and the woman who started it all…

Can you give us a preview of next year’s national park centennial?

The centennial in 2016 gives us all an opportunity to elevate public lands to an audience that has been more disconnected from nature than ever before.  You’ll see a big focus on the kind of students that SCA is also trying to reach: kids that have grown up in communities that are more urban and more diverse than what has typically been represented on public lands.

Why is that such a crucial constituency?

If you’ve never had exposure to public lands, you don’t realize that they’re there.  But if you recognize that these places are good for our souls and our clean water and clean air, and give our children a sense of purpose and playfulness and an opportunity to be curious, then you’ll support them for generations to come.  In many ways, the future of public lands is at stake.

What role does SCA play in your strategy?

SCA is the biggest and the oldest conservation association that engages young people in environmental stewardship in the country, so in many ways SCA is the “granddaddy” and SCA’s engagement is going to be really, really important. 

Is SCA’s program progression an asset in this regard?

SCA recognizes that engagement is a continuum.  NPS Academy is an in-depth program that changes the lives of those young people who get to participate in it.  Other programs that are more local like [SCA’s Washington, DC community program] are really important as a feeder system.  SCA gets that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and all levels of engagement are important. 

And Liz Putnam started it all in national parks…

Liz is a pioneer and she’s been recognized for her leadership not only for founding SCA but for recognizing the importance of engaging youth in environmental stewardship.  I think we can consider Liz to be the mother of the student conservation movement.  It’s an idea whose time has come and will be with us, I hope, forever.