Friday, March 01, 2013
Can Sally Jewell interest a new generation in public lands?
This is the world of Sally Jewell, REI's 56-year-old CEO, frequent mountain climber, and President Obama's nominee for secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. It's about as far from the cowboy-hat-wearing farming and ranching culture of current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar -- and many of his predecessors -- as you could get this side of the Mississippi.
If the Senate confirms Jewell, as seems likely, she will oversee the national parks, wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Land Management holdings that make up fully one-fifth of the country, and a much larger portion of the West. She will also serve as the government's chief liaison with Indian tribes and become "master" of the region's rivers.
Much of Jewell's work will involve finishing what Salazar started: Overseeing major domestic energy development, including on- and off-shore oil, gas and wind energy. She will inherit decades-old fights over wilderness, water, endangered species and wild horses. But perhaps her greatest challenge -- and one for which she may be uniquely suited -- will be to begin to make the public lands, and her department, relevant to a diverse new generation of wired and largely urban Westerners.
Jewell likely caught the president's attention due to her industry's recent rise into the national spotlight. A 2012 report from the Outdoor Industry Association, a trade group, estimates that Americans spend $645 billion annually on outdoor recreation. "To put our industry into perspective, we're 50 percent larger than domestic mining and drilling," Jewell said, unveiling the report at a press conference. "We're a little less effective at lobbying than the extractive industries, but we're an important part of the economy."
Ironically, however, Jewell will take over Interior even as her industry faces a crisis. A 2012 report from the Outdoor Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the Outdoor Industry Association, found that although a third of outdoor recreationists are between the ages of 6 and 24, participation slackens with age, meaning that the overall numbers could decline dramatically in the coming decades. The report also found that 78 percent of participants are white, in a country that, according the U.S. Census Bureau, will have more non-white than white children in five years, and will be "majority minority" within three decades.
Jewell has helped lead the effort to get more young people and people of color into the outdoors. REI's 100-plus stores offer classes, outings and volunteer opportunities. The company-funded REI Foundation made $445,000 in grants in 2011 to organizations focused on getting children and families, particularly people of color, outside. A gift of $150,000 to the Outdoor Foundation funded a series of youth summits under the banner of "Outdoor Nation," billed as a youth-led movement to reconnect young people to the natural world.