Private money boosts federal public lands program
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) — Hundreds of young people will be clearing weeds and planting trees from Hawaii to Vermont under a federal program that depends largely on private funding, the U.S. interior secretary said Thursday.
The government is putting in $1.9 billion of the $6.7 billion for the project announced by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Most of the rest is coming from Wells Fargo, according to Greg Knadle of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit created by Congress in 1984 to support wildlands. The group managed the donations for the young workers' project.
The crucial role played by the private sector underlines that the "budget situation is tight," Jewell told The Associated Press, saying internships and youth programs are the hardest hit at such times.
Jewell noted that when she was in the private sector, she tried to make clear to lawmakers that corporate support should not be a replacement for government funding. She said she hoped business leaders would continue to make that point.
"The term supplanting is something we worry about," said Jewell, who led outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Inc., or REI, before being appointed interior secretary last year. Private efforts "should be the margin of excellence, not the margin of survival."
Jewell spoke at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, once home to military chemical weapons and agricultural pesticides manufacturing. After a Superfund cleanup, the 15,000-acre refuge was opened in 2010, offering city dwellers access to a natural grassland. Some of the more than 600 young people employed under the public lands project this year will be working at the refuge near Denver.
Some 1,500 volunteers also will be involved in projects that, in addition to Colorado, are planned in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.
On Thursday, Jewell helped members of Groundwork Denver plant cottonwood trees at the arsenal wildlife refuge. Groundwork Denver is one of several groups across the country that had projects funded under the program announced Thursday. It will work with 18 young people from low-income, urban families at the refuge.
Dele Johnson, a 23-year-old from Arvada, said work with Groundwork over the past two years has taken him to Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain National Park and urban gardens.
"This kind of work has prepared me to advocate for natural places," said Johnson, who just completed a public relations degree at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He said he wanted a career in which he could encourage other minorities to explore and protect the outdoors.
"Having the chance to do some meaningful work in conservation was an eye-opening opportunity for me," Johnson said.