Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced that the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex will receive an additional $1 million in funding to reach new audiences and engage Southern California urban communities and youth in conservation and outdoor recreation. The refuge is the first among the nation's urban national wildlife refuges to receive this new award through a nationwide competition.
"From teaching urban youth about the magnificence of the California condor to unlocking opportunities to explore nature along the Los Angeles River, the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex is a model of how we can leverage innovative partnerships to connect new and diverse audiences to the great outdoors," said Jewell. "This dedicated funding will help engage the next generation of conservationists while also strengthening connections between the community and these public lands that belong to all Americans."
The refuge's winning proposal, the SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project, incorporates outdoor learning, service and stewardship of natural habitats, and conservation-based projects for youth and young adults from diverse communities. It encompasses activities not only at the San Diego Refuges but also to the north at the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex and in Los Angeles under the auspices of the Los Angeles Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership and Friends of the Los Angeles River.
"This project was chosen in part because it builds so well on existing local conservation efforts, partnerships and neighborhood networks, multiplying its chances for success," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. "It will create new and tangible opportunities for urban residents, particularly youth, to experience the outdoors and everything the natural world has to offer in a real, hands-on way."
Ten exceptional programs have been incorporated into the SoCal Project that will complement and expand current outreach and education programs on the refuges, including:
Working with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps to develop job skills with inner city, low-income young adults to restore wildlife habitats along the Los Angeles River and to lead outdoor education activities;
Expanding the partnership with Earth Discovery Institute to build a cadre of young technology-savvy environmental stewards and to expand service opportunities for volunteers and communities to connect with their wild lands;
Growing the next generation of environmental scientists and developing skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with the Living Coast Discovery Center; and
Training teachers and students on the use of cutting-edge science to solve conservation problems with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.
Director Ashe launched the competition in March 2014 to encourage innovative proposals from refuges across the country to engage new and diverse audiences.
Earlier this year, Secretary Jewell announced that Los Angeles was selected as one of eight pilot cities under the administration's Urban Wildlife Refuge Program to connect urban youth with the great outdoors.
"As the second largest metropolitan area in the United States with 17 million people, Southern California can be a laboratory for the rest of the country to show how to help people who live in a world made of bricks and concrete connect with a world of grass and rivers, fish and wildlife," said Jewell. "Helping kids feel welcome on public lands at a young age can help create the next generation of conservationists or spark a passion to be good stewards of nature that will last a lifetime."
Last October, the Department launched an ambitious youth initiative to inspire millions of young people to play, learn, serve and work outdoors. More information on the initiative can be found here.
President Obama strongly supported the initiative by proposing $50.6 million for Interior youth programs in his 2015 budget, representing a $13.6 million (or 37 percent) increase from 2014. Included in the budget is an increase of $2.5 million for the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program, $8 million to expand opportunities for youth education and employment across the National Park Service and an additional $1 million in the Bureau of Indian Affairs for youth programs.