On Interior Sec. Sally Jewell’s Order Promoting Access to America’s Public Lands for Under-Resourced Youth:
The Student Conservation Association is encouraged by Secretary Jewell’s leadership to reduce the barriers between connecting America’s young people and our public lands. As the national leader in youth conservation, SCA knows that nature provides young people with essential physical and emotional benefits, and studies involving SCA members further reveal their time in the outdoors enhances their resiliency and self-confidence.
Disadvantaged and under-resourced youth benefit greatly from these transformative experiences. Our national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands are among our country’s most inspirational assets, and all Americans deserve the opportunity to feel and see them for themselves.
Having met with Secretary Jewell and others at the White House recently to create more opportunities to engage all youth on public lands to play, learn, work and serve, I applaud this action to reduce barriers and encourage continued determination to connect new audiences to nature and build a new generation of outdoor advocates and stewards.
The full announcement from the Department of the Interior is as follows:
WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today released a Secretary’s Order to decrease barriers for disadvantaged and under-resourced youth to access America’s public lands and waters through expediting the permit process.
The action honors the legacy and recent passing of noted conservationist and philanthropist Douglas W. Walker who devoted his time, energy and resources to many educational and environmental organizations, ensuring young people from all backgrounds have an opportunity to experience the natural world. His tireless advocacy raised awareness with federal public land management agencies of the barriers and opportunities that exist to better serve this important segment of our population.
“Doug Walker taught us that many at-risk young people stand at a crossroads where a connection to our public lands can literally change the direction of their lives,” said Secretary Jewell. “I can’t think of a more fitting way to honor his life and legacy than making it easier to welcome young people to the great outdoors.”
The Secretary’s Order released today directs Department of the Interior bureaus to take concrete steps to facilitate outdoor experiences for groups of disadvantaged, disabled or at-risk youth by decreasing barriers for organizers of such groups to obtain permits for access to lands and waters managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation. The Department of Agriculture’s US Forest Service is likewise undertaking an effort to streamline its process.
“Our national forests and grasslands have provided inspiration and peace to millions of Americans. By making it easier for our youth to access these lands and even to participate in helping us maintain and protect their resources, we are ensuring all Americans for generations to come will have the opportunity to experience a national forest, hike its trails, gaze at its mountain peaks, and row in its streams,” said Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Our national lands have an invaluable lesson to teach our next generation: when you conserve and nourish our natural resources, they nourish us in return.”
At present, individuals and organizations that bring disadvantaged and under-resourced youth onto public lands have indicated that they continue to face challenges in obtaining permits for these activities, particularly for multi-day outdoor excursions in backcountry areas. Groups and individuals may be subject to significant fees, commercial use authorizations, and other administrative requirements when attempting to access public lands. Other concerns include delays in permit processing, group-size limits, and inconsistent permit requirements across the bureaus.
The Secretary’s Order specifies that certain actions to increase access will apply whenever an individual or organization certifies that it is seeking to access lands or waters managed by the Interior Department for visitors who are under 26 years of age and in groups of which at least 70 percent of the participants are disadvantaged and under-resourced.
This is the latest step in the Administration’s effort to foster the next generation of outdoor stewards. This year President’s Obama’s “Every Kid in a Park” initiative offers free access to fourth graders and their families to America’s public lands and waters. A previous Secretary’s Order (Order 3332, 3/24/14) entitled: Engaging the Next Generation, also encouraged the involvement of young people in playing, learning, serving, and working in the great outdoors.
“We should do everything we can to introduce newcomers to public lands that belong to all Americans,” said Jewell. “By streamlining the permitting process, we can knock down barriers that stand in the way of welcoming young people to enjoy, explore and experience nature.”