“How’s your energy level, guys?” I asked as we waited in the lobby of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Each of the teenagers replied with focused enthusiasm, an attitude reminiscent of Theodore Roosevelt. If any of the four in the group was nervous, it failed to show.
I was with the winners of an essay contest sponsored by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition dedicated to balancing conservation with the need for responsible energy development led in part by the TRCP. The contest’s theme was “the importance of public lands to me,” and the winners’ essays highlighted the forests, mountains, sagebrush steppe and backcountry waters that are as diverse as the winners themselves.
Hailing from across the country, the group traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials, including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and members of their states’ congressional delegations, and leaders in the conservation community.
I have read the winning essays (you should, too) and knew that the students possessed a high level of thoughtfulness and intellect. But I remember what it was like to be that age. One minute you are focused and kicking butt, and the next you are flustered and overwhelmed (did I just described my own life?). But let me tell you: These teens exceeded my expectations of young conservationists in America. We all should take notes.
I spent some time chatting with the group about their backgrounds, favorite game to hunt and impressions of the nation’s capital. Before we knew it, we were ushered into the elevator that took us up to the sixth floor to the secretary’s office.
I was excited to meet Secretary Jewell. I look up to her as a mountain climber, a woman, a leader, a champion for the outdoors and more. But I was most excited to hear what the teens had to say to her.
As the conversation unfolded between Jewell and Matt, Haley, Jarred and Rebecca, the contest winners, it was clear that the secretary was enthralled by what these young people had to say. They talked about what strategies should be employed to get more young people – and more people of color – outdoors. They discussed how time spent outdoors better prepares people for life. They told Jewell what they might prioritize if they were in her position. They talked about the importance of public service, our conservation heritage and more.
Not one person left Secretary Jewell’s office unchanged. Young people bring the unbridled depth and bright ideas that are crucial to the future of conservation.
If you know any young conservationists, hunters or anglers, spend some time talking with them. Use the winning essays to kick off a conversation about why our public lands and our hunting and fishing heritage are important. Listen to their ideas as to how we might engage more people in outdoor pursuits. And please, share your ideas below and on our Facebook page.