Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
On Aug. 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service. One hundred years later, it protects more than 400 parks and monuments, from Yellowstone to Gettysburg and the Stonewall Inn, the first national landmark honoring the fight for gay rights. Still, there are challenges, like a $12 billion maintenance backlog and an ongoing ethics scandal. And some say a lack of funding could threaten America’s rich conservation legacy. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell talks with Diane about her vision for preserving green spaces for the next generation.
- Sally Jewell Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior
The Value Of National Parks
Diversity And The NPS
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service. 100 years later, it protects more than 400 parks and monuments, from Yellowstone to Gettysburg and the Stonewall Inn, the first national landmark honoring the fight for gay rights. Still, there are challenges, like a $12 billion maintenance backlog and an ongoing ethics scandal.
MS. DIANE REHMInterior Secretary Sally Jewell says she has a vision for how America can build on its rich conservation legacy and pass on thriving public lands to the next generation. Sally Jewell joins me in the studio. You can call us on 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us Facebook or Twitter. You can also see this conversation. We are live video streaming this hour at drshow.org.
MS. DIANE REHMSecretary Jewell, it's good to see you again.
MS. SALLY JEWELLAnd it's a pleasure to be back with you again, Diane.
REHMThank you. I'm glad. Overall, what kind of shape would you say the nation's parks are in now 100 years in?
JEWELLI would say this, Diane, that the nations parks now, more than 100 years ago, are reflective of a more full story of America. We certainly added dramatically to the number of units over the course of its 100-year history. But over times in the last 100 years, our parks have been loved to death and not supported significantly. It happened about 10 years before the 50th anniversary and mission 66 was launched to bring the parks back up to standard for their 50th anniversary.
JEWELLThe same thing has happened over the course of the last 50 years. We invested. This investments have declined over time and we're not faced with a time where we've got wonderful national parks, committed employees, dedicated visitors, but the facilities and the maintenance have not kept up with the needs. And that's something that we're facing right now as we celebrate the centennial of the national parks.
REHMAnd here's the curious part of me. I understand that national parks generated $32 billion in economic activity just in 2015. How much of that revenue then goes back into maintaining our parks?
JEWELLWell, the short answer is a very small amount. That reflects the economic benefit of the national parks across the country so most of that goes into rural communities and surrounding communities, gateway communities, guide services, people that help support the visitor experience in parks. Right now, we only get less than half of what would be needed to take care of the deferred maintenance backlog in our park.
REHMWhat does that mean in dollars?
JEWELLWhat it means in dollars is between roads and non road assets, we have less than $400 million to maintain the facilities that we have and the need just to stay even is about $800 million a year. So each year, our deferred maintenance problem gets worse and we really have to triage for those areas that are most critical to visitors.
REHMAnd that's the next question for me. Which of the parks would you say is in the best shape and which is in the worst shape?
JEWELLI would say some of the parks that are in the best shape are the parks where we've had the support of private philanthropists to invest in those resources to bring them up to appropriate standards.
JEWELLSuch as Gettysburg, for example, where a significant amount of money was raised for the cyclotron and visitor center there. I'd say the parks that are in the worst shape would be those that are not the iconic parks, which actually have a pretty good private philanthropy infrastructure, but those that might be lesser well known or more remote where the facilities have not kept up. So I'll give you an example of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
JEWELLIn that case, we have basically two elevators. You have to have two in case one breaks down to be able to service people. We had one of them break down. It was out of commission for several months and the only way to get down to the caverns was to use the stairs. It's a long way down.
REHMHow much would it have cost to fix that elevator and why did it take so long?
JEWELLWell, we have now invested in it. I don't recall the amount, but it's, you know, certainly hundreds of thousands of dollars. We didn't have it readily available and the fact that we weren't able to keep up on maintenance meant that it was more likely to have a breakdown as opposed to be maintained along the way.
REHMNow, tell me the role Congress plays here in terms of how much money is going into maintenance of these parks and how much more you need.
JEWELLWe have, in the 2017 budget request, an increase of about -- well, the increase to about $450 million for the non transportation assets. Okay. That compares to right now we have, in the '16 budget, 116 million. So we are asking to go from 116 million to about 450 million. That, over a ten year period of time, would reduce the maintenance backlog on our highest priority assets and that's what we're asking Congress for. When you look at the amount of economic activity that's driven by these national parks and you recognize that a dollar invested in a national park returns $10 to the American taxpayer, it's a smart investment.
JEWELLAnd we're making that case for Congress because...
REHMWhen you say to the American taxpayer, you mean by virtue of all the activities surrounding the parks as well as the park.
JEWELLThat's correct. And that includes state and local sales taxes, which go into those local communities and help those economies. So yeah, local communities want us to have robust, supported national park facilities because it drives tourism revenue and economic opportunity for them. So we are very dependent on Congress for the budget for the national park service.
REHMAnd tell me about philanthropy and how large a role that plays. Where does it come from?
JEWELLWe have done some surveys on the outside, through nonprofit organizations, including one I was on the board of before taking this job that said that people are very interested in supporting the national parks, either as volunteers or with financial contributions or both. So it is very important. The National Park Foundation, which is a congressionally chartered foundation to support the national parks, is in the middle of a capital campaign and they've increased their fundraising target to $350 million because they're having some good success in that campaign.
JEWELLWe also have friends groups, like Yosemite has a very large and effective friends group that supports fundraising for Yosemite, Grand Teton is the same way. In fact, we're, right now, trying to raise $23 million. The federal government will pay half. We want to raise half to purchase a square mile right in the thick of a critical area that we don't have money in the federal budget to buy, but if we don't buy it, it would go into, most likely, mansion development right in the middle of the view shed.
JEWELLSo these are the -- there's a lot of interest and support for philanthropy and we want to make sure that we encourage that because we don't expect the federal government to come up with everything.
REHMAnd how many of the parks that we have are free to the public and how many are there charges for just to enter?
JEWELLI don't have those statistics ready at hand. I would say that many of them are fee-generating if it's easy for them to collect fees. For example, Great Falls right here in Washington, just outside of Washington, D.C., has a fee collection. Some of the smaller ones don't. But even those that don't have a donation box and people will typically make a donation. So I don't have the statistics on exactly how many are fee-generating and how many aren't, but either way, they're still a bargain.
REHMI was about to ask what the general amount would be of a fee that individuals would pay.
JEWELLSo typically, entrance to the park might be $10 or in a, you know, a larger park, perhaps 20 for a carload.
REHMFor a carload.
JEWELLFor a carload.
REHMNot an individual person.
JEWELLNot an individual. That's right.
REHMAnd then, what happens to the car? Is the car parked free or is there an additional fee for parking a car?
JEWELLTypically, the car is then parked for free. So there is no fee. In the case of Great Falls, you pay to park your car, but you could walk in for free.
JEWELLSo it varies and those are set by individual superintendents. But you can buy a pass, which I do every year, for $80 and then that gives you free entrance to all parks for $80 once a year. If you're over 62, it's $10 for life and you get a national park pass for life, although I think that we should be raising the rates. It requires congressional action and I've made that recommendation, much to the chagrin of my 62-year-old plus friends. But it's still a huge bargain.
JEWELLI will also say all fourth graders in the United States of America can get the Every Kid In A Park pass and that gives them the same pass that you and I might buy for $80 so that they can then take their family for their fourth grade year for free to all of America's public lands wherever there's a free charged. So for fourth graders, EveryKidInAPark.gov and they can download a paper pass. They can swap it for a plastic pass at a national park.
REHMWhat about fifth graders?
JEWELLWell, you have to -- fourth graders are...
REHMStart at fourth, all right.
JEWELLWe start at fourth.
REHMWe'll take a short break here. Your calls, your comments are always welcome. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell is with me. We're talking about parks right now. She is the former engineer and, later, CEO of outdoor gear retailer REI. And then she came to the U.S. government. We are, of course, celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the U.S. Parks System and, with it, come many, many questions -- how it's going to continue to sustain itself. And here's an email from Gary, who says, I find it appalling that our nation depends on private donations to fund maintenance and improvement of our failing national parks. Maintaining and growing our military at the expense of national infrastructure and our national parks is misguided. How do you see that?
JEWELLWhile I appreciate Gary's sentiment, the reality is we need to have a strong military and we need to have a strong domestic infrastructure. And parks are a very important part of that domestic infrastructure. They're responsible for a great deal of tourism that comes into the United States from outside and also a place where we, as Americans, can get out and learn about our history and our culture, but also relax in a place that is, you know, so key to all of us, which is in the spectacular world of Mother Nature. So I would hope that it is not a tradeoff, that we could have both. And that's certainly a case that we make with Congress every single year.
JEWELLWhat's life been like for you in this transition from the business world into government?
JEWELLWell, it certainly was a wake-up call for me. Business is so much easier...
JEWELL...than -- so much easier.
JEWELLTwo things. One is, I consider myself and this job to be in the forever business. And I think that that's what the American people expect of me as well. The public lands, our national parks, our wildlife refuges, these are place that belong to all Americans. And we would like to deliver them to many future generations unimpaired. In fact, that is the charge of the National Park Service. And yet we're budgeted on an annual basis if we're lucky. I started my year under sequestration. In the middle of my first year on the job we had a government shutdown. I mean, that is absurd. And of course shutting down the national parks was some of the most visible impact of people's outrage.
JEWELLAnd a lot of that anger was vented at the national parks, unfairly so. In the private sector, you can think longer term. You can make strategic plans. You can create budgets and five-year and ten-year plans. And we can't do that here. So that's one fundamental difference.
JEWELLThe other I would say is around risk. In the private sector, you're rewarded for taking risk. You make a mistake, it's like, wow, I learned from that mistake and you make a change. In government, you step out, you take a risk, you try and be more efficient. Something doesn't work as well -- a software program or a restructuring decision -- and you're called in front of a congressional inquiry to say, why were you wasting taxpayers' money by making that mistake. So the motivation for stepping out and making change is very different in the public sector. And those certainly have come to bear.
JEWELLThe opposite though is that you can make a difference in the public sector like you could never make in the private sector. So given a chance to do it again, I'd do it a hundred times over. But it is very, very difficult.
REHMHave you, on occasion, been called before Congress about particular matters?
JEWELLYeah. I mean, I'll give you an example. There was a very unfortunate incident that happened as the EPA was working with the state of Colorado to clean up an abandoned mine. And that was a spill. And everybody is familiar with that. I was called to a hearing because the Bureau of Reclamation did an independent analysis of that. They concluded that it was an accident. People wanted their heads. They wanted the heads of the EPA administrator. I mean, these are the kinds of things where well-meaning individuals that are trying to do the right thing are criticized because something goes wrong.
REHMNow, more recently, there have been concerns about sexual harassment within the National Park Service. Tell us what's going on.
JEWELLWell, let me say this, that I think for many of us who've been in the workplace for a long time, we've experienced some form of sexual harassment -- hazing, rites of passage, as well -- that have made us and the people around us very uncomfortable. And I certainly, as an engineer starting out in the oil and gas industry, know what that feels like. And there is no place for it in the workplace. I'm not proud of the fact that, when we asked the inspector general to investigate allegations at the National Park Service, that they came back with the findings that they had, particularly around the Grand Canyon and Cape Canaveral very recently. But I am proud of the fact that we are going to deal with it and deal with it immediately. So...
REHMTell us what happened. What were the facts in those cases?
JEWELLWell it -- two different cases investigated by the inspector general. And as oftentimes happen -- and we've been working with the military and NOAA and the forest service, that have also had some of these issues -- that what's reported is typically just the tip of the iceberg. So I'm sure that, as we investigate this, we will find that there is a bigger issue around perhaps a culture that allows these things to go on that needs to change.
JEWELLIn the case of the Grand Canyon, the investigation revealed that people leading trips on the Grand Canyon were sexually harassing, or worse, individual women, younger women that were on those trips. And that is unacceptable.
REHMWho were aides on those trips or guests?
JEWELLThey may have been scientists. Not guests. These would have been people doing work...
JEWELL...scientific research, park service work and so on. And as we investigated, you know, changes were made. And, of course, can't talk about individual situations but we made changes in the individuals. But the deeper question is, how do you get at that culture?
JEWELLHow do you get people to report? And how do you make it clear what behavior is and isn't acceptable? And we are certainly on that in a very significant way, not just in the National Park Service and not just as a women's issue, but at an environment around every agency of the Department of the Interior -- just as the Department of Defense went through -- where this is unacceptable. And we know that this is really important to jump on and we are jumping on it.
REHMYou know, it's as though something has gone through the culture generally. And what we're seeing with the shootings by police, with the shootings of police, I mean something is happening to the culture that must be dealt with on a far larger basis, it seems to me, people taking advantage of other people who are less in power than they.
JEWELLI think that's true. And I think that what needs to change is really a function of leadership. And it's painting a picture of what is acceptable behavior? What is behavior that people aspire to be a part of? And what is unacceptable behavior? So that individuals may report, but the work group also will stop it, nip it in the bud, if they see something happening that creates a hostile kind of atmosphere. And, you know, I think the vast, vast majority of people want to create a positive working atmosphere.
JEWELLWe, in the Department of the Interior, have many people working in remote locations on small teams. And their commitment to working together and with each other is really important. But that creates vulnerabilities that are somewhat unique to us that we need to make sure we're addressing. And I think that we are in a challenging climate in the United States. But leaders who can set a positive direction, where people want to see themselves in that picture, who take actions and provide consequences when there are violations of that, I think are the kinds of environments that people will sign up to work in. And that's really important.
REHMSecretary Jewell, can people feel totally safe within the National Park System? Or are there parks which allow some people to come in with guns?
JEWELLThe National Park System did not allow guns. But there was a piece of legislation passed, before I started in this job, which was a rider on a consumer finance bill that allowed people to carry weapons in national parks if they were allowed by states. So if the state allows carrying of weapons, then that is something that I believe we have to extend in parks. There may be exceptions to that. But I don't believe that we should have that. I think that people expect to come to a national park and not be vulnerable.
JEWELLPeacefully. I, you know, certainly in some national parks we encourage bear spray, because of the threat of wild animals in the backcountry. But for the most part, guns are discouraged. And in some parks, they are prohibited, depending on state law.
REHMBoy, you'd really want to do some research then before you go to a park, if you are someone who does not wish to confront a gun or see a gun in a national park. Do you recall which ones do allow guns?
JEWELLI don't recall which states allow guns. I know my home state of Washington does not. But I would not want to dissuade people from going and enjoying an experience in a national park because of that being perceived as a threat. 307 million people visited our parks last year alone. I don't recall hearing of one incident when one individual confronted another with a gun. We have many public lands where guns are allowed and shooting is allowed -- recreational shooting. So I don't want to scare people. I would encourage people to use our parks and public lands and say that's an extremely low risk.
REHMTell me about the parks you've been visiting recently.
JEWELLWell, I will say that whenever I have a free afternoon or moment, I oftentimes visit national parks. I was in Manassas doing a hike on Saturday morning.
JEWELLIt was a hot hike. But I get to national parks all around the nation. And of course you mentioned Stonewall National Monument, the president just named that because of its importance in the history of LGBT rights. And I was just there for the commemoration of that national monument. I'll be getting out to Port Chicago, it's a Naval memorial, and we'll be doing a celebration next week. And that's out in California. This is a site where largely African-American sailors were loading munitions. They were told that they weren't live. It turned out they were live. There was an explosion and over 300 of them were killed. And this is a story that has not been told much since World War II. And we are highlighting that story.
JEWELLSo whether it's history, culture, or beautiful natural areas, I'm out all the time.
REHMTell me what Port Chicago looks like.
JEWELLWell, I haven't been there yet. But we are opening a visitor center. And this is in Riverside -- excuse me, Oakland, Calif. And so it's going to be a visitor center. I believe it's located with a city park facility. And it will interpret the story that happened there.
REHMSecretary Sally Jewell of the Interior Department. If you'd like to join us, give us a call, 800-433-8850. You can send us an email to email@example.com. And remember, we are streaming video live during this hour, so you can all enjoy seeing Secretary Jewell. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a caller in Lake Geneva, Wis. Brad, you're on the air.
BRADHi, Diane. Hi, Sally. The subject of shuttering some of our national parks due to budget problems is very near and dear to my heart. There is a park near me, it's called Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. And the stellar feature in that park is Mount Baldy, which is a unique, giant sand dune on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Several years ago there was a tragedy there. It was a near fatality. There was a bizarre, never-before-happened sinkhole that opened up, swallowed a little boy/
BRADMy understanding is that the boy was thought dead at first but was -- he was revived and apparently made a full recovery.
BRADBut, of course, that would shock and scare everybody. Sadly, though, the respondent -- response of the superintendent was to shutter the park completely. Nobody has been allowed in the park since. And this is a place that not only is -- was popular for many, many decades for beach goers, but it's a unique site used for over 35 years by hang-glider pilots and paraglider pilots riding the breezes coming onshore...
BRAD...from Lake Michigan.
BRADThe U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association has attempted, with no avail, with no success, to intervene and to reopen access to the park. I drove past it recently. The parking lots are barricaded and overgrown and it's just a terrible, terrible solution with a broad brush to a problem that really doesn't warrant a broad-brush solution.
JEWELLWell, Brad, thank you very much for the call. And I do -- I was aware, certainly, of the tragedy. And I know that we're continuing to investigate what happened and have discovered subsequent sinkholes in dunes that I think, you know, the latest science that I've heard may be ancient trees that have decomposed and left these holes in their wake. I was not aware that the entire park was closed. Are you referring to the entire park or just this Mount Baldy area?
BRADWell, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore encompasses Mount Baldy. And Mount Baldy is the majority of the park. And I want to distinguish between that and Indiana Dunes State Park in Indiana, which is adjacent to it and which runs for 30 miles along the Indiana shoreline, but that's state property. The Indiana Dues National Lakeshore and Mount Baldy is a fairly small park in comparison. I'm guessing it's probably only a couple of miles of lakeshore.
JEWELLOkay. Well, I think, yeah, I can certainly look into that. But it would not be a budget-cut reason why we would close something like that. It really would be a public safety reason. And I do know that we have active investigations going on to understand what's happening there so that we don't put the public at risk, as happened with the boy that you referenced. But it -- that would not be equated to a budget situation. That would be more ensuring that the public safety. But I'll certainly look into that.
REHMI think you mentioned that other sinkholes have opened up in the same area?
JEWELLWe've had several circumstances where we've had sinkholes in dunes. And I don't know if it's all in Indiana Dunes or if it's also some of our other parks that have sand dunes. But we're trying to research what's happening here.
REHMI'm so glad that little boy was rescued.
JEWELLSo am I.
REHMSecretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. When we come back, more of your questions, comments. And just to let you know, Bernie Sanders is endorsing Hillary Clinton right now. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell is with me, and we've been talking about the parks. We've been talking about a sinkhole which almost took the life of a four-year-old boy. Thank goodness he was rescued. How long ago was that?
JEWELLI think probably two years or so.
REHMOkay. Here's an email from Michael, and I think this one speaks to a lot of people's concerns. He says, I'm very concerned about the trend I'm seeing in this country, often led by elected officials at the state and national level, to privatize our public lands. As you said, Secretary Jewell, public lands and the people who work for them are in the forever business. What can ordinary citizens do to help stem this tide?
JEWELLWell that is a great question from Michael and something that I face every day. The reality is that our public lands were set aside for the benefit of all Americans, and I think perhaps not surprisingly, when you're representing a particular congressional district or a particular county, you're interested in generating revenue for, you know, the lands around you to benefit your citizens. There are ways to do that, from exploitive industries like oil and gas development or mining, renewable extractive industries like logging.
JEWELLWe also, I will say, pay rural counties through something called payment in lieu of taxes when there are federal lands in their communities to help support basic services like fire, schools and local governments because we recognize that those lands are not on the tax rolls. The American people expect these lands to be there for future generations. When many of the Western states were established, at statehood, a determination was made about what land would be federal and what land would not be federal, either private or state, and those are part of those state constitutions, and this is something that people oftentimes don't choose to recognize or understand.
JEWELLWhen we think about habitat and ecosystem or even resources, it knows no political boundaries. We're working very hard to pull up and understand our landscapes on more of a landscape scale, what's necessary for ecosystems for species, where is it okay to develop and where is it not okay to develop, what areas are too special or critical habitat for animals that may be endangered of going extinct.
JEWELLAnd these are difficult issues when people think about political boundaries, but we have, I'd say, made great progress in a future of conservation that takes into account local interests but also shares the importance of these places for national interests so that we have less conflict.
REHMBut there are political differences in water use, in land use, in reacting to or acknowledging global change, global warming, global heating, changes in temperature, changes in the atmosphere. So those are political issues that affect every element of the parks, certainly.
JEWELLThat's exactly right. I'm leaving early tomorrow morning for a trip that's going to take me to multiple counties in southern Utah. I'll be meeting with three or four elected -- county elected officials in three and four counties. I'll be visiting areas that the elected officials, on a local level and a state level, would like to see developed, those they'd like to see protected. I'll be meeting with tribal leaders that would like to see some areas protected that have sacred sites, ancient ruins, and are very, very important to multiple tribes from throughout the Desert Southwest, who of course knew none of these political boundaries before contact.
JEWELLHaving those kinds of conversations on a local level, hosting an open public meeting, which I'll be doing on Saturday in San Juan County, Utah.
JEWELLAre important ways to listen to the communities and understand what their concerns are and make sure that as public land managers, we take those into account, but we also have an opportunity through particularly our local land managers to share the value of those lands beyond what people may immediately recognize, the ecosystem services that public lands provide in terms of clean water and clean air and habitat, for example.
JEWELLI would say that many of our laws in the past have focused just on the value of land from an extractive industry capacity. We now understand that public lands are worth so much more. And sharing that information and listening to local communities is an important way to move forward and away from this dispute about a desire to privatize public lands.
REHMHowever, doesn't money too often win the argument?
JEWELLI think money does win the argument oftentimes when we oversimplify the value of these lands as being what we can extract from them or what we can sell them for. There was a recent study done cooperatively between Colorado State University and the Harvard Kennedy School that put a value on the national parks alone of $92 billion. This is what the American public says these are worth to us.
JEWELLThose are values that, you know, are very, very important and quantified through independent economic research. It's important that we talk about these values and not just the value of the oil or the gas or the minerals that could be extracted.
REHMAll right, let's go to Wilmington, North Carolina, Daniel, you're on the air.
DANIELGood morning, Diane.
DANIELMadam Secretary, one of the questions I had had -- actually has kind of a twofold situation. I was wondering if you could expound on the Colorado River issue, and then I'm a Leave No Trace instructor. I was wondering if you could talk about how Leave No Trace works with the national park system and how it helps mitigate some of the costs that national park system has to go through to keep themselves -- national state and, you know, municipal keep themselves going.
JEWELLOkay, thank you so much for that question, Daniel, and thanks for being a Leave No Trace instructor. I very much applaud your work.
REHMTell me what Leave No Trace does.
JEWELLLeave No Trace is a national movement that's been going on for decades now that provides basic principles of -- to young people and older people alike on how to enjoy the outdoors and wilderness areas without leaving a trace. So it's about walking on the trail and not off-trail, even if it's muddy. It's about obviously not only not leaving garbage, but picking up garbage that you find. It's about how to properly dispose of human waste in the backcountry. And I'm sure that Dan can walk through that with us chapter and verse, but it's been very, very important to help educate young people on how to live in harmony with nature.
JEWELLBut to the Colorado River issue, which is your first question, Dan, the Colorado River has experienced its lowest inflow of water over these last 15 years compared to 1,200 years that we can find in the paleo records on tree rings. So that means that our region here, served by the Colorado River, which provides water to something like over 40 million people, that's probably underestimating, and I think it's even more than that, it provides water for agriculture in many of our most fertile regions of the Southwest, so it's in trouble.
JEWELLIt's over-allocated right now. The good news is that we have seven states along the Colorado River that are working very closely together to recognize the problem and to work collaboratively with the federal government on conservation measures because we cannot keep doing what we're doing now without drawing the river down to unsustainable levels.
JEWELLWe already are at the -- a very low level in Lake Mead, the lowest level that it's been at since it was originally filled. So those discussions are going on and getting a lot smarter about how we use water, recycling water, not losing it to evaporation, not losing it to leakage are all very important, and there's really, really good work and compromise that has never happened before going on with those seven basin states.
JEWELLIn terms of Leave No Trace, it is no question that the ethos of enjoying public lands with a softer footprint and teaching children so they can teach their adults how to enjoy these public lands in a sustainable way is having a very significant impact. Many of our national parks have gone to garbage-free parks. So you pack it in, and you pack it out, and...
REHMTake it out with you.
JEWELLAnd people are doing that.
JEWELLBut part of that is just training people. But I would say that it is absolutely reducing costs but also helping increase a sense of responsibility and ownership among users of the park that is very, very helpful.
REHMThis morning, as I was walking my little dog Maxie at 5:30 in the morning, I saw someone pick up a plastic bag that had floated across the street, walk across the street and put it in the trashcan. I thought there's a good citizen right there. Here's a tweet from Christian, who says as a park ranger of color, I'm curious about the secretary's thoughts of the lack of color in the National Park Service and the department in general.
JEWELLI really appreciate Christian's question, and he is correct. We are under-represented by racial minorities and women across the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior, and I would say our visitors also do not reflect the population of the United States as a whole. This has been a very significant area of focus for me and a significant area of focus for Director of the Park Service Jon Jarvis as we look to the next century of the national parks.
JEWELLIf we are not relevant to all Americans, how can we expect to be supported? And so I applaud Christian for joining the National Park Service, for bringing, I assume it's a man, his perspective to the national parks and showing the face of the national parks to be more representative of our population. We need more Christians out there. We need more people of color. It's certainly part of our recruiting effort. I also say, again, Diane, back to our conversation of the public sector versus the private sector, it is hard to go through a hiring process in the federal government, and there are a lot of restrictions on who we can and can't hire and preferences, which makes it harder to turn the ship on this than it in the private sector. But I know it's very important.
REHMTo Herndon, Virginia, hi there, Josh.
JOSHHi Diane, and hi Secretary Jewell. So I wanted to raise a question for you. I'm a volunteer at the Claude Moore Colonial Farm, and it's right here in McLean, Virginia. First, I want to say thanks for the national parks. My family is an avid user of all the local facilities, and we enjoy them tremendously. But as a volunteer at the Claude Moore Colonial Farm, their mission is education and outreach. They portray the lifestyle of a poor tobacco farmer in the 18th century, and they have wonderful child outreach and education program and community events.
JOSHI'm specifically concerned over their lack of ability to obtain a new cooperative agreement with the National Park Service. They are privately funded but operate on National Park Service land, and they do a wonderful job of maintaining the property and communication, community education and outreach. But I understand they've been trying to renew their 30-year cooperative agreement for the past couple of years, and it expires September 30 of this year.
JOSHGiven your commitment to bring the National Park Service into the next 100 years, why wouldn't the NPS want to renew such a valuable partnership with an organization that doesn't cost the taxpayers anything?
REHMAll right, Josh, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Secretary Jewell?
JEWELLThanks for the question, Josh, and more importantly, thanks for being a volunteer and bringing what it was like to be a farmer in colonial days to life in Claude Moore National Park. I have not been out there. I'll need to put it on my list to go. So specifically as to the renewal of that contract, I don't know. As you might imagine, there's -- that's getting down a bit into the weeds in terms of my job, but I'm very happy to follow up with the Park Service and ask them about that.
JEWELLBut more broadly speaking, you know, it used to be that volunteers were the margin of excellence, and it sounds like you have provided a margin of excellence in that park. But right now with the kind of funding situation we have, volunteers are the margin of survival for us. We've got, across the National Park Service, about 250,000 volunteers, which is more than 10 times the number of employees that we have in the National Park Service. They are our margin of survival. They are the people that bring things to life, like colonial farms, that answer questions at our visitor centers, that man our campgrounds, that do trail work, along with 21st Century Conservation Service Corps and young people that are out working on public lands. And we could not do our job without them, so...
REHMAre you able to maintain a steady level of volunteers?
JEWELLYes, I'd say that not only are we able to maintain a steady level of volunteers, but that's increasing.
JEWELLBut there are certain circumstances that cooperative agreement with nonprofit organization is something that we have in a number of different areas, and there are specifics to that that I can't answer, but I will say that the work of volunteers and the work that we have in some of these collaborative national parks is very, very important to bringing that story to life. We could never do it on our own budget. So I'll follow up on that, Josh. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
REHMGood, all right, and finally to Andrea in St. Louis, Missouri, you're on the air.
ANDREAHi, good afternoon.
ANDREAMadam Secretary, I just want to thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart, for everything you are doing for our parks. I have three sons. My youngest son is 11, and he has been to nine national parks. These parks are a true treasure of our nation. They're a complete jewel that should be treated with enormous pride by all our American citizens.
ANDREAI mean, my family goes there, and it's affordable, and it's a place -- you know, you can drive to so many of them from different parts of wherever you live. And my kids have grown so much, and, you know, our family goes, and we see things that we can't see outside of our back door. They're -- the displays whenever you go -- you read about them. They learn so much. And I just -- I feel a little bit like this show might be kind of leaning towards a dark cloud of it, and I don't want that to be what people listening regard. I think this is -- like I said, my family truly enjoys it. We have never felt safer than we do in a national park. They are greeted with the friendliest people there. And we just enjoy ourselves immensely.
ANDREAAnd like I said, my 11-year-old has been to nine, and it's kind of like a goal for us to try to hit every one of them.
REHMOh, that's terrific. Well, that's a very positive note on which to end this program. Thank you, Andrea, for your call. I'm sure that warms your heart, Secretary Jewell.
JEWELLI -- it not only warms my heart, I hope that you take your son and give him an opportunity to become a junior ranger along with his friends.
REHMThat's great idea.
JEWELLAnd thank you so much for ending on that positive note because these are America's treasures. It's our centennial year. We welcome all Americans to enjoy our parks.
REHMAnd we have gotten emails that the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is open, just the Mount Baldy area is closed. And that's what you actually thought. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, thank you so much for being here.
JEWELLDiane, it is always a pleasure. Thanks for the service you provide to all of us through this work.
REHMThank you, and thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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