Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell Seeks to Close Gap Between Kids and Nature

Washington, DC - (August 27, 2007) - Gail Kimbell, Chief of the USDA Forest Service, spoke to the August Recreation Exchange about her passion for the national forests and her commitment to introducing “more kids to the woods.” As a native New Englander, Chief Kimball has fond memories of the White Mountain National Forest. Her childhood memories strengthen her bond to the national forests and she hopes to encourage these types of connections for future visitors. Chief Kimbell discussed her agenda for closing the gap between nature and kids and shared her belief that programs designed to serve youth can lead to connections to other segments of the American public.

Chief Kimbell told the group that as she traveled across the country getting to know the issues the American people cared about, she heard many people expressing their concern for the future of forests. Ms. Kimbell noted that the American people recognize the pleasurable benefits, as well as the physical and spiritual benefits, that the forests bring to our well-being.

The Inception of “More Kids in the Woods”
Former Chief Dale Bosworth announced a new project, “More Kids in the Woods,” a year ago. Chief Kimbell explained that the initiative developed from concern that nature is playing a lesser role in the lives of today’s tech-savvy population. “Our iPod-listening, American Idol-watching, Xbox-playing generation increasingly shows a propensity toward sedentary life, leading to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression,” explained Ms. Kimbell. With participation in outdoor activities declining, children are deprived of the emotional and psychological benefits the outdoors offers, she said. The Chief noted that studies have shown that contact with nature relieves symptoms of attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity.

Chief Kimbell also regards reconnecting today’s youth to the outdoors as essential for the future of sustainable forests and healthy public lands. She said that through early connections to the outdoors, the youth of today will become the conservation leaders of tomorrow. She emphasized the importance of nurturing this sense of responsibility and civic duty to ensure continuing care for our lands.

Success for “More Kids in the Woods”
Chief Kimbell recommitted the Forest Service to meeting challenges by working closely with partners. “More Kids in the Woods,” launched last spring with a half million dollar budget for matching grants at an event hosted by the American Recreation Coalition and National Forest Foundation, is an example of this partnership strategy, which the Chief pledged will continue. The program funded 26 creative efforts offering “hands-on” outdoor experiences to youngsters – and also raised public awareness about a key challenge our nation faces. The “More Kids in the Woods” announcement generated more than 100 newspaper stories focusing on declining physical activity levels among youth and the benefits of increasing time spent by youth in the outdoors.

Chief Kimbell pointed out that “More Kids in the Woods” was not the Forest Service’s first attempt to reach out to youngsters but its success focused and energized the outreach commitment as a priority for the agency.

Ms. Kimbell told the audience that the “More Kids in the Woods” program has already made a difference. She cited a letter she had received from Karen, a 15-year- old inner-city Houston participant in a “More Kids in the Woods”-funded program. Karen spent two weeks in Montana this summer learning about fire ecology, camping in the woods and studying aquatic life. The experience left an indelible imprint on this teen’s life. Karen wrote the Chief, “Personally, I am a big city girl. But the experience at Big Creek has opened my eyes and I realize that there is other beauty in life besides movies and shopping malls.” Karen’s story is similar to those of 25,000 other youth touched by the “More Kids in the Woods” program, Chief Kimbell said. She highlighted successes involving the Harlem Link Charter School in New York City and “Be Active Bitterroot” as two other initiatives exemplifying the promise of “More Kids in the Woods.”

What’s Next?
“Now what?” the chief asked. With conservation leaders, the American people and the U.S. Congress pleased with the positive results, what happens next? Chief Kimbell pledged that “More Kids in the Woods” would not be a “one hit wonder.” She said these programs should be used to introduce and encourage new ideas such as geocaching or blogging. Ms. Kimbell asked the recreation community leaders to work together to explore new ideas for increasing the impact of “More Kids in the Woods.”

Ms. Kimbell recognized the strong commitment of the Forest Service’s long-time partners to helping youngsters understand the values of the forests and ecosystems. She suggested using the momentum of many organizations and programs, including the National Wild Turkey Foundation’s JAKES program, Leave No Trace, and National Fishing Week, to advance similar goals.

Partnership Opportunities – Beyond Children
Ms. Kimbell also suggested that the “More Kids in the Woods” program can go beyond children and reach out to parents and urban communities. She noted that the agency’s urban forests are experiencing significant changes in recreation patterns and uses, which enable the agency to track and learn to respond to new trends.

Conservation and Kids
Chief Kimbell concluded her remarks with a call for action. She said, “Our most important resource in this country is not the forests, vital as they are. It is not water. It is people.” In order for today’s children to be able to resolve natural resource challenges, she explained, they will need full environmental literacy and a strong land ethic. Chief Kimbell asked that the recreation community commit to seeing that they get both. In turn, the Chief pledged that the Forest Service would work with the recreation community to ensure that every child in America, and their parents, have the opportunity to experience the Great Outdoors.

Following her prepared remarks, Ms. Kimbell took questions from the audience.Asked to comment on the controversial recreation facility review now underway, Chief Kimbell welcomed the opportunity to explain that the recreation facility analysis gives the Forest Service a better understanding of what facilities exist, their condition, and the investment needed to bring them up to current standards and meet the public’s needs. She also noted that the facility analysis effort relies on public involvement.

In response to a question regarding the future of private investment on Forest Service land for recreation, Chief Kimbell referred back to the facility analysis, noting that it will help the Forest Service learn if there are greater demands than the agency’s resources can handle. She suggested that if this were the situation, a database and a business case would need to be developed in order to gain Congressional support and to approach potential private investors.

Forest Service Director of Recreation Jim Bedwell responded to a question posed regarding follow up to the ARC-Forest Service regional forums held earlier this year. Mr. Bedwell explained that a number of task forces have been created to tackle prominent issues such as access, roadways, trail systems, children and nature, health, and funding. Mr. Bedwell said that both the Forest Service and its partners participating in the forums were truly motivated by the discussions at the meetings and are looking forward to working together on these issues.

ARC President Derrick Crandall applauded Chief Kimbell for mentioning the urban national forests, stating that they make a strong impression on the American people and may truly become public teaching institutions. He also encouraged the Chief to make sure the anticipated 2009 surface transportation legislation addresses the troubled transportation infrastructure in the national forests. Chief Kimbell agreed that the urban national forests were yielding great opportunities to give urban youth memorable experiences in the Great Outdoors. She also commented that access as well as road maintenance are definite concerns of the Forest Service. With that being said, she pointed out that, this year alone, the Forest Service has spent $962 million on fire suppression – 25% of its budget – and, unfortunately, road maintenance has suffered because of it. “I don’t like it, but that’s what I have to work with,” she said, adding, “so the transportation bill might be a very important one, for a number of reasons.”

The final question asked for the Chief’s perspective on the status of the Travel Management Rule, which addresses OHV management. She noted that the meetings held to address management changes were often contentious, reflecting the sentiment that “[if you] mess with a guy’s recreation, [you] mess with his soul.” While she acknowledged the difficulty of coming to an agreement, Chief Kimbell expressed the belief that once people do work together, there comes a pride in ownership and a “policing through peer pressure” that provide real benefits to trails.

Recreation Exchanges are hosted in Washington, D.C. by the American Recreation Coalition 10 times annually, featuring guests who are influencing recreation policy in America. Information on past and future programs is available at:

If you would like to contact Ms. Kimbell, she can be reached as follows:
Chief Gail Kimbell
USDA Forest Service
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
202-205-1661 Fax: 202-205-1765

Recreation Exchanges are made possible by the following sponsors:
American Association for Nude Recreation
American Horse Council
American Motorcyclist Association
American Petroleum Institute
Bureau of Land Management
Bureau of Reclamation
Kampgrounds of America
Motorcycle Industry Council
National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds
National Marine Manufacturers Association
National Park Service
National Recreation and Park Association
Personal Watercraft Industry Association
Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association
USDA Forest Service
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service