It didn’t receive a lot of attention, but U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell revealed some nuggets about her agenda for National Parks — and her personal life – during a sweeping speech at Acadia National Park.
In her remarks at the Schoodic Education and Research Center on Aug. 15, Jewell touched on a wide range of topics, including the challenges of stingy federal spending on parks, the need to start preparing a new generation of potential rangers and other National Park personnel, the scary effects of global warming on federal lands and the important role of the parks as science classrooms for youths.
Jewell, 58, the former CEO of REI, a national outdoor retail company, started on a personal note.
She said that her visit to Acadia National Park on Friday brought back memories of the first time she traveled to the Maine park 37 years ago.
Jewell said she took a summer off from college, climbed into her red Fiat sport coupe, packed a tent kit, a little yellow cooler and traveled across the country by herself. She stopped at Craters of the Moon, Yellowstone and other National Parks.
“I was by myself,” said Jewell, who graduated from the University of Washington and became interior secretary in April of 2013. “I had a CB radio, my handle was what my boyfriend called me at the time which was ‘kiddo’. I used to talk to truckers. They’d asked me to come meet them for coffee. I politely declined.”
“My boyfriend at the time met me in Philadelphia and we drove up here to Acadia. He’s now my husband. 36 years. So we had a rainy experience in Acadia, right? It’s raining … I remember a very memorable night. You know, on a trip like that, 15,000 miles on my car, and it was a Fiat, and it still made it, which was unbelievable. But one of the best memories that I had was with Warren and I sitting in the tent eating lobster with butter and the rain outside. So it was pretty special.”
– On a policy note, Jewell said that in an era of tight federal budgets, National Parks will need to depend more on donations and volunteers. Jewell singled out the work of the Schoodic Institute, a private, nonprofit that helps manage the Schoodic Education and Research Center, one of 19 National Park Service research learning centers in the U.S., the Friends of Acadia, a private, nonprofit that supports the Maine park in many ways and the National Park Foundation, a private, nonprofit fund-raising group and partner for the national parks.
“…The work of the Friends of Acadia, the work of the Schoodic Institute should be the margin of excellence for our parks and our public lands, it should not be a margin of survival. But in the last few years it has become more and more the margin of survival as we’ve leaned more heavily into philanthropists and we’ve leaned more heavily into volunteers.”
“We’ve been out raising private money,” Jewell said at another point, according to a transcript of her speech provided by the interior department. “Didn’t think I was going to come in this job and be on bended knee begging corporations for money, but I am. I’ve had some success; I hope to have more success.”
Jewell’s corporate background may help her connect with big donors. She is a former banker and petroleum engineer who was born in England and came to the US with her family when she was 4.
Jewell’s speech followed remarks by National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and David Rockefeller Jr., a grandson of the famed conservationist John D. Rockefeller Jr., who donated about 11,000 of Acadia’s total of 49,000 acres and bought land and gave millions of dollars to several other national parks.
– Jewell said she is committed to inspiring a new generation to replace rangers, wildlife biologists and other workers in the Baby Boomer generation who will be retiring in the years ahead.
She emphasized the interior department’s “youth initiative,” the Schoodic Institute’s programs and field trips for students and the work of the Acadia Youth Conservation Corps.
“In this little fundraising effort we’ve got, we’ll have close to $50,000 coming to Acadia for Youth Conservation Corps work supported also by matching funds from the Friends of Acadia. So it’s a $100,000. It’ll provide jobs for a group of young people this fall, and those young people will not only do great work here, but it will give them an opportunity to know what’s at stake and know that when they do become mayors, and city council members and members of Congress, or engineers, or real estate professionals, or bankers, or whatever they choose to do, they will care about this place.”
“What’s happening at the Schoodic Institute is actually pretty exciting,” she added. “Which is, not just direct science, but in engaging the next generation in science.”
– She warned that global warming is changing the landscape of wild areas, with the melting of the ice pack overwhelming some spots in Alaska.
During a trip in 2013 to the Alaska North Slope, she said she flew in a small plane to the village of Kaktovik, and became alarmed that the runway is washing away. “Why? Because the pack ice is moving out weeks sooner and that ocean is battering the shore lines, and the shore lines are falling away. Archeological sites that have been there for time immemorial are washing into the water. The runway in Kaktovik was washing into the water and is being relocated inland.”
Climate change is evident almost everywhere, including Jamestown Island in Virginia, she noted.
“Historic Jamestown, another National Park site, part of the colonial national park down in Virginia. 98 feet of coastline have washed away there due to sea level rise.”
She said leaders must prepare for climate change and work to slow contributions to climate change.
“… It is one of the main reasons why I took this job, because it’s going to take all of us working together to address climate change and we will be needing to adapt, we will need to be more resilient. We will need to learn from Mother Nature.”
Jewell, who made her first visit to Acadia as interior secretary, also showed that she knew how to draw some laughs from a crowd.
“I was born in 1956, if you square the math that means I’m 58. You don’t have to do that quick math in your head. It’s just easier. You can look it up on Wikipedia too. I don’t try and hide it. One article written about me said, ‘silver haired and sinewy’ and I thought, ‘ooh!’ [Laughter] Gotta take that as a compliment.”
That sounds like some good advice for anyone of Jewell’s generation.