According to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, one third of employees in the Department of the Interior will be eligible to retire in the next five years. The challenge is how to transfer all that wisdom, skill, and knowledge to younger generations, many who would be more likely to recognize an Angry Bird than a bald eagle. Estimates hold that childhood in the age of video games means seven minutes a day in unstructured play outside and seven hours in front of a screen of some sort. The National Fish and Wildlife’s program America’s Great Outdoors: Developing the Next Generation of Conservationists aims to reconnect young people with their natural environments. In addition to all the physical, mental and emotional benefits there are to experiencing wild places, America's Great Outdoors equips them with the conservation career training needed to answer the help wanted signs that may be appearing soon.
The America’s Great Outdoors: Developing the Next Generation of Conservationists Program
This program is a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Bureau of Reclamation (TBR), the U.S. Forest Service(USFS), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and a private partner. It’s purpose is to providing financing so that youth aged 16-25, particularly urban, tribal, and minority youth, can be hired in conservation projects. In the first three years, it created 2,300 paid jobs and utilized 35,000 volunteers in 86 projects across the country. Among it's priorities are:
- Providing paid internships or outdoor jobs to underserved urban, rural, and tribal youth.
- Connecting youth with natural resource experts for mentorship and training.
- Opportunities for hands-on experience with habitat restoration, stewardship, and other conservation-related activities.
- Delivering conservation benefits to the land, facilities, programs or mission of BLM, TBR, USFS, and/or the FWS
- Supporting projects that align with NFWF conservation programs.
- Building partnerships with diverse entities, including state and local agencies, urban organizations, tribes, nonprofit organizations, corporations, and foundations to leverage federal dollars with nonfederal contributions.
Selected Past Recipients
- Celebrate Shorebirds: Celebra las Aves Playeras (AK, CA, CO, OR) -The Environment for the Americas (EFTA), partnered with the BLM, USFS and FWS to expand paid internships for Latino youth in shorebird identification and monitoring. The interns then helped conduct shorebird education and conservation outreach in their communities.
- Bridging the Forestry Diversity Gap (GA, NY, NC, TN) -Private/public partnerships helped prepare youth for future employment with the Forest Service and similar organizations. Not only were they equipped with the latest conservation skills, they were connected with the professional networks necessary for mentorship and success in the field.
- Tillamook School District #9 (OR) - The district partnered with the BLM to research the impact of waterway restoration on coho salmon in local rivers. High school students and recent graduates were employed during the summer months. For an even broader impact, the project was incorporated into the science curriculum in the Biology, Chemistry, and Natural Resource classes at Tillamook High, where pupils assisted in data collection.
- Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Youth Conservation Team (SD) -The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe worked with the USFS to improve conditions for wildlife on Fort Pierre National Grassland in South Dakota. Projects included modifying fencing to make it easier for pronghorn antelope to pass, invasive weed control and the replanting of native shrubs and grasses. Interns had the opportunity to discuss career opportunities with Tribal and SUFS biologists.
- Detroit, MI - Ten youth were hired to participate in the Green Connections Conservation Careers program. They led volunteers in planting and caring for over 1,600 trees at Rouge Park, one of Detroit’s last virgin forests. In doing so, they practiced their leadership and communication skills, as well as learned more about local ecosystems.
- Mt. Hood Community College/ Project YESS (OR) - At-risk minority youth benefited from the Youth Conservation Crew and Conservation Career and College Exploration programs by exploring conservation careers. Assigned to restoration projects in the Sandy River Basin near Portland, they gained job skills and experience in salmon habitat and native plant restoration, trail maintenance, and invasive plant eradication. They also had the opportunity to participate in seminars, panels, and job fairs in the natural resource field.
Applying for America's Great Outdoors: Developing the Next Generation of Conservationists Program
Eligible applicants are state and local governments, Native American tribes, school districts, academic institutions, consortia and nonprofits. Educational institutions are only eligible for the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service funds. Bureau of Reclamation funds will only go to projects in it's 17 state region. Applicants should submit an eligibility quiz before submitting an application. A tip sheet is provided for further information. The due date is November 17, 2016.