National Public Lands Day Live Chat with Secretary Jewell
September 25, 2013
Good afternoon. I’m Tim Fullerton, the director of digital strategy here at the U.S. Department of the Interior. We want to welcome you to the roof of the main Interior building here in beautiful Washington, DC. We’re going to try something a little bit different and does it up here today, give you some of our great public lands right behind us, with the Washington monument here. We’re very fortunate to have Secretary Jewell with us today for the next 30 to 35 minutes, who will be answering your questions over the next half hour of so on a variety of topics. But most importantly, Saturday will be the 20th time we’ve had the National Public Lands Day, which is a big day on public lands across the country. Hundreds of thousands of people will volunteer - it’s a great opportunity to get out there and do some good on public lands. So please feel free to use the chat right on the screen here and we’ve also got some emailed questions, as well, but first I want to turn it over to Secretary Jewell to provide some opening remarks. Secretary Jewell?
Thanks, Tim, and thanks to all of you for tuning in to this live chat. It’s difficult to get around this great landscape and see everybody and it’s really wonderful to have colleagues like Tim who facilitate technology so that I do get a chance to hear directly from you and the questions that you’d like to ask me about the broad world that is the department of the Interior. I do want to say that one of my favorite days of the year is coming up this Saturday and that is National Public Lands Day. Over the course of a number of years, I’ve had the privilege of volunteering a great deal on our public lands, and I want to thank the National Environmental Education foundation that started National Public Lands Day 20 years ago, so that we could connect so many people to our public lands. I think their first public lands day was very small; coming up, we’re looking at 180,000 volunteers for this year and that’ll be at about 2,200 sites. I went to just cruise around their website before this presentation today and their tagline for this Saturday is “helping hands for America’s lands” so I encourage you, as I did, to go to their website at publiclandsday.org and you can see just by clicking on your state what’s happening close to you. I hope that you will join me in getting out and doing a little sweat equity on our nation’s public lands. This Saturday, I get to go to Atlanta, where I’m going to be working on the martin Luther king Jr. National historic site and that will be the childhood home of Dr. King. I’ll be at the Ebenezer Baptist church, as well. We’re going to be doing weeding, painting, mulching and picking up garbage. But most importantly, when you get out and you connect with public lands, you never look at that site in the same way. You’ll never look at Dr. King’s memorial in the same way, if you get out there and you work on it, and that’s true for public lands around the country. I hope that you will join, just as people did last year – picking up garbage, and I think we had many tons – 500 tons – of garbage picked up last year, 23,000 pounds of invasive species removed and invasive species are everywhere. At this time of climate change, at this time of tight budgets, volunteers can make a huge difference so I do hope that you’ll get out and join me. And maybe take a young person by the hand to give them an introduction to our public lands, as well. So with that little commercial for getting out and getting onto public lands, I’d be delighted to take your questions. Tim, whether you’ve got some online, or have some that were emailed in, fire away.
Great. Well, we were inundated with questions so we’ll get right ahead to it. This one is from Sal in Virginia, and they’re asking – are there plans to increase access in bandwidth to social media and mobile phone in our parks and forests through cell towers and other devices? Do you believe that this is a positive direction for these places?
Thanks, Sal in Virginia, for the question. There’s no question that we are all tied in to our mobile technology today. While children are spending a lot of time in front of a screen in their recreational time, and I talk a lot about that, I also know that mobile technology and tablets and things like that can really help connect us to the natural world. One of the things we’re seeing in a number of National Parks, for example, and wildlife refuges is interpretive information that is place-based and tied into GPS satellites that help you understand what you’re seeing. And the National Mall that’s behind me here is one such place where you can learn about history based on where you are with a good mobile connection. While it’s not going to happen everywhere – there are challenges with getting cell phone coverage in certainly some of our more remote places – I would say that the department of the Interior, across our bureaus, appreciates the importance of technology and how people interact with the natural world, as well as with each other. Sometimes even, when you’re sitting listening to an interpretive message on your phone that’s based on the place, you’ll find people gathering around listening to that same message and it helps our resources go farther too. I think it’s a good call out and something that we’re definitely investing in, where the budget allows.
Great, thank you Secretary Jewell. And I’ll just add if you’re out on our public lands this Saturday, and you’re using your phone to take photos to share with your friends and family, please use the hash tag #npld20 so that we can get out the word further on this great day. So the next question, we’re going to shift to the budget question that’s on a lot of people’s minds right now and we got a lot of questions on this. This one’s from Rachel in south Dakota and she’s asking – what can we, the citizens who love these public lands, do to keep these place open and well-funded?
Well, I appreciate the question, Rachel. It’s certainly been very challenging in the just-under 6 months that I’ve been here. The Department of the Interior, as with every other federal agency, has been operating under a continuing resolution with sequester that has forced budget cuts across the board. In many of our facilities, we see the highest levels of visitation and need during the summer and our seasonal ranger foresters, our seasonal wildlife biologists, but a lot of times it’s our young people who are looking potentially at building careers have been hit the hardest by the sequester and the budget situation. I would say that all of us need to make the case for the importance of public lands and the good work that’s done by people on public lands. And one of the things I say often in speeches is when you see a federal employee, give him a hug or say thanks for the work that they do, because there’s an awful lot of negative messages and coming from the private sector, I can tell you that there’s many hard-working people throughout the federal family that are trying to do good work for the common good, for tribal nations across this country, for public lands and wildlife and the diversity of species, as well as energy development and water and things that people care a great deal about. We really need to get back to regular order in the budget, and we also will pledge to you that we will use our resources wisely. I’ll bring my business experience to bear in making sure that we’re spending our money efficiently, but we really can’t do it when we’re operating on a week-to-week basis with continuing resolutions without thoughtful strategy on how to manage our resources.
Thank you, Secretary Jewell. The next question is related to energy development on public lands – and this is also from Virginia, it’s from Keith. And he is asking – what are some of the ways that the department can balance energy development with the conservation of public lands in order to produce energy while also sustaining outdoor recreation?
Well, I really appreciate that question. “Balance” is a key word. We are mandated by the various laws that govern the work of the Department of the Interior to be thoughtful and balanced in how we use the resources, particularly within the bureau of land management and the bureau of ocean energy management – that’s onshore and offshore where the lion share of our resources are developed. Balance is important; there are places where nobody would want to see development. You could think of some of the iconic spots around the country: the grand canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, but also places like the arctic wildlife National refuge, which the president has made clear is not for energy development, and yet the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which we’re working close with indigenous communities there, as well as the state, to open a lot up for energy development. We want to be thoughtful and one of the priorities that I set for Interior, in terms of how we look at the lands under our stewardship, is developing a landscape-level approach. So that’s really understanding where are the resources, where are the sacred sites that are important to our nation’s first people, where are the areas that are critical habitat. How can we look at all of that on a landscape level, so we focus on our energy development in areas where the conflict is lower and we can help prioritize those areas that are really special because we understand and can set them aside. It’s complicated, but balance is important, and we are committed to both. We don’t think it has to be a trade-off, we think we can have both.
Thank you, and that leads us into our next question, which we’ve gotten a lot of questions on the climate change in the president’s climate action plan so this one is – generally speaking, what is Interior’s role in helping to promote the president’s climate action plan?
Well first, I’m proud to work for the president, who stepped up in front of a National audience and laid out a climate action plan. We are really feeling the effects of climate change throughout the country, and certainly in the resources that Interior manages, whether it’s intensely hot wildfires, as we still have burning inside and outside of Yosemite National park, whether it’s droughts or floods – we’ve seen droughts, floods, and fires in Colorado this year. Our thoughts are with people in Colorado as they dig out from the challenges that they had recently with floods. We do have challenges in water supplies; too much water in some areas, droughts in other areas. So what’s Interior’s role – multiple roles, as you might imagine – with one in five acres of land in the United States. One is to power our future in new ways. My predecessor ken Salazar and his team did a fantastic job of standing up renewable energy projects and permitting thirteen gigawatts of renewable energy since 2009 on public lands. These are projects that can really help power ourselves into the future with renewable energy sources, and they’re being done in ways that really pay attention to what are the conservation ideals on the landscape, as we’re doing for example in the Mojave desert, to thoughtful management of conventional and unconventional fossil fuels. We’re working with industry to develop those and do them in more effective ways, in terms of reduced carbon for the energy output, so certainly renewable energy, conservation of resources, and preparing our country and our landscapes for the realities of climate change. Just a quick example if I might Tim – hurricane sandy. Huge devastating impact, obviously, in the northeastern part of our country. But what we learned from that and we can help share those lessons is what Mother Nature knows about resilient natural infrastructures and the ability to take the lessons from mother nature and apply them ourselves. So we will be doing that in hurricane sandy mitigation, we will be using young people – it is an educational opportunity – to show communities where a hardened infrastructure sometimes is worse for the structures behind. Soft, green infrastructure was sometimes better for structures behind, and how can we learn from Mother Nature and apply those lessons to the future. There’s just a lot going on around climate change at the department of the interior, and we have a lot to learn and to share.
Great, and if you’re looking for more detailed information on our work with renewable energy and climate change in general, you can go to www.doi.gov and go to the what we do section, and we have all kinds of information on there about specific projects we’re working on all across the country. And if you’re just joining us, I want to remind you that we’re sitting here with secretary sally Jewell who is answering your questions on a variety of topics related to the department, but more specifically about the 20th National Public Lands Day, which is coming up this Saturday. We’re going to stay on the climate change related questions here. This one is from john in Oregon; he’s probably deeply affected by this issue. The question is – what actions are planned and what plans are being activated to reduce catastrophic fire effects in our public lands?
I appreciate that from john. I know you had a spectacular summer in the northwest, I’m told, so I kind of miss my northwest quadrant after a beautiful summer like you’ve just had. Well, wildfires are a huge issue and a growing issue across the country. We have been working with your senator Ron Wyden, with others on Capitol Hill and within the administration on a longer term fix for wild land fires. We treat emergencies like hurricanes and earthquakes and floods with emergency money, but we tend to treat wildfires within our regular budget. So when we do have really tough seasons, we end up focusing on suppression of the resource, putting out the fire, but it takes money from other parts of our programs, including removing hazardous fuels that can cause fires to burn hotter. As we become smarter as a people and land manager, you realize that natural fires are really important to managing an ecosystem, but when we go for years without natural fires, we end up with fires that are far more devastating. So we will be working closely with Capitol Hill and with the administration on a longer-term fix that enables us to be smarter about taking care of those landscapes, removing fuels, and not having to pull money out of the budget just to fight fires. The other thing I just want to say is, for those people who love living in the woods, you do take on a personal responsibility of making sure you’re clearing hazardous fuels around your structure, as well, because so much more firefighting money goes to protect, what we call in the wild land, urban land interface. I just encourage those of you who do have a place in the woods to help us out by removing the hazardous fuels on your properties.
Great, thanks Secretary Jewell. Now, I see we’re getting a lot of questions on the chat and we’re going to start off with one that we’ve gotten a lot of variations of. So, we’re going to wrap them all together and this one is related to the National Academy of Science. They released a study on the bureau of land management, wild horse and bureau program. What do you see as the future of the wild horse and the bureau program of the bureau of land management?
You know the challenge of how to effectively address a rapidly growing population wild horses or bureau on public lands is one that, I know tremendous number of people in the country that care a lot about, and tend to send me a lot of letter and ask a lot of questions, and I appreciate that – I appreciate the passion that there is around the wild horses on the west. Also, know that the National Academy of Science study validated what the land management organizations been saying, which is that the herd doubles in size every three and a half years if left unchecked. So there were recommendation in the study with regard to birth control\, it’s an imperfect situation. The bureau of land management has tried to work it out, they are analyzing the data in the study and you know, I have encourage them to figure out what they can do to manage this, where we can learn not only from the National Academy of Science study but also from the private sector; are they more effective of birth control methods that industry might be able to research that makes these things more effective. And it also say that we have a very active adoption program so that if we are challenged by the number of wild horses and bureaus, we’d love to find a good home for them where they’re expanded beyond that federal range into the private sector. So for those who are passionate about it, encourage you to think of constructive solutions in this time of constrained resources, think about opportunities to work with the private sector on birth control and other methods and I will continue to work and encourage my colleagues at the bureau of land management and other agencies to come up with a solution that it is a long term solution. But this has been going on a long time, Tim, so it’s not going to be an overnight answer.
Right, good point. Thanks, Secretary Jewell. We’re going to take another question now from the live chat. This question is from David. His question is, what are the duo priorities working with tribes in regards to trust lands and sharing GIs data with tribes to restore tribal homelands?
Well, thanks, David I appreciate the question. I am very committed to upholding our trust and treaty obligations with the tribes. We have an active effort going on around the Cobell settlement to make sure that we accelerate land and the trust, and I think you’ll see ongoing announcements about which areas we are focusing on as we take our resources and concentrate to getting them done, and getting them done within a time frame that’s identified in the Cobell settlement. I do know that we don’t have a proud history of traditions as a federal government of policies that have been helpful to any country and in fact, sometimes the opposite. With president Obama’s commitment, with my predecessor secretary Salazar’s commitment, with the new white house council on the native American affairs that I am chairing at the request of the president, but involves almost every cabin of agency. We are making sure we are bringing the whole federal family to the table to understand what we can do as various agencies to help support and engage in a way that tribes want us to so, self-government, government self- determination are very important. The question around the GIS mapping, I’ll quickly touch on that, we are at a time in our history where we have great capacity to leverage mapping tools on a nationwide scale. One of the priorities that I have laid out in addition to strengthening tribal land nations is around the landscape level and using GIS tools to do that. So I think that if you have specifics on how it might relate to trust lands, we would be delighted to see that. Landscape level data and GIS mapping allows us to get down to a pretty granular level, and the USGS, which is also part of the Interior is the focal point for these GIS mapping tools on a nationwide basis and they will be working with tribes. So, it is a great suggestion and I will definitely encourage my colleagues that are doing the land transfers to take a look at how we might be able to leverage those tools.
Great, thanks Secretary Jewell. And again, I just want to remind everybody that we are here with secretary sally Jewell talking about National Public Lands Day in a variety of topics that is related to the department. If you're just joining us, this chat will be archived and will be shared on doi.gov and also on our YouTube channel, which is youtube.com/usinterior and we will. We will also remain on the live stream channel which you are looking at right now for the next couple of weeks so you can watch it after this if you would like. We are going to move on to another question that is related to National Public Lands Day from Jim in Connecticut. And he is mentioning that not only is Saturday National Public Lands Day but is also the 41st anniversary of National Hunting and Fishing Day. His question is, with access to lands becoming more and more difficult, do you have plans to expand access to public lands to provide America’s 40 million sportsmen and sportswomen more opportunities to enjoy America’s great outdoors?
Well, it is a National Hunting and Fishing Day and I do hope you’re not working on public lands and if you are, you might be able to combine with a little sportsmen activity. Sportsmen and women have been cornerstone conservation for many decades. Theodore Roosevelt, a great sportsman and a great conservationist really recognized that healthy ecosystems are critical to having species that do fuel the great American pastime of hunting and angling and also connect us to the landscapes in ways that are natural for us as a species. In my prior work in the outdoor recreation industry, I can tell you that, broadly speaking outdoor recreation is a huge driver of our economy. Something under just under $650 billion a year, a good chunk of that is from the hunting and angling community. So thanks for the call out about the National Hunting and Fishing Day. I hope people do enjoy this. Access is a very important part of what we are committed to doing, one little congressional tool that has been very helpful for nearly 50 years is the land and water conservation fund. That is something that has been very helpful in enabling us to buy easements, for example, across private lands or sometimes outright purchases of land that are critical for habitat and for sportsmen's activities. So I encourage you to share your support for the land and conservation fund, to take a look at what it might do within your own state, both the state side program and the National side program and if these things are important to you, access is important to continue to make the case to our elected officials it is important we support the fund as we have requested in the president's budget in 2014
And the only thing I would add on is that there is a site called recreation.gov. For a lot of fantastic opportunities both for hunting, fishing but also for enjoying America’s public lands no matter what you’re interested in; hiking, biking, camping, you name it all of it is that recreation.gov, so you should check that out today. All right, we probably got another five or six minutes so if you have a final question, please feel free to send them in and we’re just going to keep rolling along. The next one is from harry in Colorado and he has asked-- we have heard a lot about the 21st century service corps and how it will provide jobs and service opportunities for thousands of young Americans and veterans who work on public and tribal lands and water. Where does this fit within your priorities and when will you expect to launch such an effort?
I appreciate Harry’s comment on this. I am very committed to engaging our young people to the public land. The civilian conservation corps, back during the great depression at a time when we were in worse shape than we are now, certainly economically, was a time when our country chose to put people to work and did in a way where they connected them to public lands that we still enjoy today. And for those young people who went to work on public lands, they never lost that connection to the place. So this is a different time and place. But we do have a network of conservation corps all over the country because I have worked alongside a number of them in service projects. The 21st CSC, or 21st conservation service corps, is going to be different because we are in a different time. We are working alongside organizations like the student conservation and other core network members around the country that know their communities and connect people young and old to those public lands in areas that make those federal state or local dollars go so much farther. This weekend, National Public Lands Day, is a great illustration of one day is actually being done 365 days across the country engaging people to the environmental stewardship. Interior plays a major role in this. We have the public lands. Regular order with the budget will actually enable us to put the volunteer coordinators in place, to use the volunteer that choose to work on our lands, which is great right now, anytime the sequestration, we have more volunteers than we can put to work because of the way our budget is not working right now. So we will be getting back to regular order, I hope. We will be focusing on how we can lean into the communities and I know from personal experience that when people, especially people that have very little connection to public lands get out and work on those lands, build a trail, build a structure, clean up garbage, remove the invasive species, that not only do they understand that landscape but they will never look it the same way. They go to that place and look for the tree they planted, they’ll look at the land that they cleared, they’ll look at the building they worked on, and I can’t think of a better way to engage Americans young people in than that and a few of them will get jobs at the Interior and we want to bring back more youth hiring than we have been able to do so in the last year because of the budget situation so, I am hoping we’ll get past some of the craziness that’s been happening around our budgets in Washington, dc and when we get to regular order. This will absolutely be a priority for me.
Just as a reminder if you're interested in volunteering this weekend, there are events all across the country. Go to publiclandsday.org for more information, under the actives that are right around the corner from you. The next question is, if we keep moving along, is from Carl in California and his question is: what is the department doing currently to increase access to the disabled to our National Public Lands?
I appreciate the question from Carl. It's no question that we want our lands to be accessible and to feel welcoming to all people, American and visitors alike. And we know that accessibility is really important to a good part of our public that can’t access all of our lands if we don’t make them accessible. So, it’s very important. Today actually, I was getting an update today from the National Park Service on some of its efforts around fixing up a crumbling infrastructure and what is needed to do that, one of their priorities was in fact around access and making sure things are ADA accessible. It is a priority, it also takes money. All of those things working in concert; we are trying to make sure the facilities are welcome and accessible. That is certainly going on in all of our land management.
We have time for two more questions, so we’ll just keep going here. The next question is from Audrey in Florida. Her question is, of the 15 cabinet level departments, Interior ranks on the lower side for diversity in the workforce. Why is that and how do you intend to correct it as diversity begins with top management?
Thanks, Audrey I appreciate. If this were my friend Audrey in Florida then I really appreciate her commitment to diversity in so many areas. It has been interesting to come into the Department of Interior and it may surprise the folks out there with a very deep sense of commitment at every level across the Interior. We do not have as much diversity as the nation in the Department of the Interior. We don't have the broad American public enjoying their public lands in relation to their makeup of our population. I believe strongly that public lands need to be accessible and welcoming to the whole public and part of that is what is the face of the Department of the Interior that is greeting people as they come to these facilities, what is the face of the senior leadership of Interior that is creating role models and aspirations so that people do say this is a place that I would like to bring my talents. Over the last week, I have had opportunities to dig in on this topic with number of folks inside and outside of the Interior. As I have gone around the landscape and met with wild life refuge managers, National Park superintendent, BLM state directors, and otherwise I have sensed a very consistent commitment to increasing the diversity of our work force and making sure our country is more reflective of the population. I will also say not to hark back on our consistent theme, but our youth hiring programs, which, by the nature of the demographics of the population and the efforts made by the Interior have been more diverse. As we welcome young people into this organization, that get us on the radar and they’re thinking about their college career and they’re in their college career, they are deciding, what do I do? Maybe becoming a wildlife biologist is of interest because they’ve had summer job with us; maybe becoming a park ranger is an interest or a land manager. Those programs have been disproportionally hit over the past few years here. We just have to get past this so we can do what you expect of us, Audrey and make sure that when we are hiring we are reflecting the country and when people come and visit our sites, they see people that look like them. And that understand the history and culture that is so rich here. All of it is very important and I certainly sense a commitment with my colleagues here at Interior.
Great thank you, Secretary Jewell. And we have time for one final question and this one is from terry in New Mexico. And this is a question related to urban refugees and parks. Can you speak about your vision for these urban refugees and how you see them meeting your goals of getting more people outside?
Well, one of the major trends going around the country is urbanization. Whether we like it or not, it’s actually happening around the world where people are moving to cities. When you combine that to the way we spend our time, how overscheduled we are, how much screen time we spend and how much time our children tend to spend in organized sports that maybe takes them away from the natural wonder of exploring the outdoors or creating their own games. We get a disconnect from nature that I believe that is undermining one of the fundamental needs we have as human beings, which is engaging with nature. Urban parks and refuges, city parks, natural areas, vacant lots, all of these things are really important to a child's healthy development. Children will invent games if you give them a chance. Children will resolve their own conflict. You don't have to tell them to resolve them, if they have a chance to do that and nature is the best classroom for so much of what we need as adults in living together in a civil society. I think urban parks AMD refugees provide a great system to appreciate the National Wildlife Refuges, the vast lands of the BLM. Even in Indian country. In tribal areas, finding opportunities to connect our children to nature that may be close by is really important to history and culture and childhood development. So, whether urban, rural, tribal, connecting young people to nature is critical in making sure that it is close to home, perhaps accessible with public transportation, some place that family can see is important. For all of you listening, we are about to wrap up, I just would encourage you this weekend to take a little person by the hand, borrow one if you don't have one yourself, get them out into the public lands, if you can get them to pick up a little garbage with you or do a little work for National Public Lands Day, all the better. But connect our little people to the green world that we are all a part of so they can care for these places that are so special that I think is so critical to our health and wellbeing.
Thank you, Secretary Jewell. And thank you everybody online for tuning in today for our special National Public and Lands Day chat with Secretary Jewell. We got some really great questions and we will be posting this chat on our YouTube channel and on doi.gov. In the coming days and it will remain on live stream over the next couple of weeks. So, Secretary Jewell do you have any parting remarks? Or are we good?
Come out and play on Saturday. Do some a little work. Publiclandsday.org. It will tell you where to go in your state. And gosh, whether the weather is like this that Tim and I area enjoying right here or whether it is pouring down rain, the natural world is what we are all a part of. So I encourage you to get out and enjoy it and again if you see a federal employee at a National Park or wildlife refuge or in the U.S. geological survey or the bureau of Indian affairs, thank them for what they do. It is not easy to be a federal employee but our work is really important. Thanks a lot.
Just as a final parting gift, we had a project this summer called the summer in America in the great outdoors and we asked you to submit your photos of your favorite activities on all of our public lands across the country and the response was unbelievable. Over 13 hundred of you sent in photos, regions from coast to coast, to every state, it was amazing to see them all come in. And so, we are going to leave you with some of the highlights we have received over the last few months. This is just a rough cut. We will have another one on our YouTube channel later this week. This is a preview for now so thanks again for your time and we look forward to talking to again you real soon.