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Can We Overcome Our 'Nature Deficit Disorder'?

More people are more disconnected from natural systems than at any other time in the history of humanity. But a new scheme may help that.

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Jewell’s Twenty-first Century Conservation Corps aims to reverse that trend. If all goes according to plan, the corps will provide 100,000 young people with work and training opportunities in public land management over the next four years. Additionally, Jewell hopes to get 10 million students to take advantage of the educational opportunities in our public lands, “the nation’s best natural classrooms,” as she puts it. And she wants to enlist at least one million young volunteers in outdoor work such as trail building. If Jewell manages to hit even half of those marks during her tenure, it will be a significant success – and do much to polish her reputation among environmental groups.

Secretary Jewell’s relationship with environmentalists has been rocky so far. According to  The Washington Post , at one of her first meeting with greens leaders she managed to get into an argument with Sierra Club chief Michael Brune over gas fracking. Nor does it look like the relationship will get smoother anytime soon. As Jewell, a former oil and gas engineer, makes decisions about fossil fuel extraction on public lands, she is bound to tick off many greens.

But she should be applauded for her outdoor engagement advocacy. I saw Jewell speak at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club last year (and I happened to have dinner with her once when she was still at REI) and it’s clear to me that she has a real passion for getting young people out on the trail. She feels the issue in her bones. It seems to me there’s a good chance that, looking back years from now, Sally Jewell’s legacy at Interior won’t be her decision on this gas lease or that renewable energy installation, but rather her accomplishments in introducing a new generation of people to the wonders of America’s wild places.

Jason Mark is a co-manager at San Francisco's Alemany Farm and the editor of the quarterly environmental magazine, Earth Island Journal. He is also a co-author of Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots.
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