Assistant Secretary of the Interior Discusses Management Challenges and Solutions

Assistant Secretary of the Interior Discusses Management Challenges and Solutions

April 20, 2012 (Washington, D.C.) – Rachel Jacobson, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, was the special guest at the American Recreation Coalition’s April Recreation Exchange. Joining the Assistant Secretary as resource persons for her presentation were James Kurth, Chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System, and Bert Frost, Associate Director of the National Park Service for Natural Resource Stewardship and Science. Ms. Jacobson oversees the operations of both agencies.

Ms. Jacobson opened her comments by mentioning the “cornerstone” initiatives of the Obama Administration – the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative (AGO) and the National Travel and Tourism Strategy. She explained that the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service were both focused on finding ways to implement these initiatives to provide recreation opportunities and fulfill their missions. She presented her audience with impressive facts, which she called “the basics,” regarding each agency, including acreage, visitation, and economic impact. Then she cited the “bad news”: backlogs of more than $3 billion for the National Wildlife Refuge System and $11.4 billion for the National Park System stacked against annual budgets of approximately $495 million and $3 billion respectively. She described each agency as responding to that financial challenge by constantly fine tuning the implementation of its mission, and setting and re-setting priorities. Mr. Kurth noted that, while the refuge system had grown dramatically just during his career, the agency was now purchasing easements and retaining what he called “working landscapes” to deal with funding shortfalls. Mr. Frost explained that park units “can’t exist as islands” and described efforts to engage partners from areas surrounding the parks. He also mentioned urban park initiatives to broaden awareness and support for the National Park System. Ms. Jacobson reinforced those comments, noting that “partnerships are crucial” and that urban areas offer excellent opportunities both for partnerships and for the development of conservation values.

Exchange participants also commented on the challenges presented to land-management agencies by the federal budgetary and appropriations processes. Ms. Jacobson acknowledged that the agencies need to do a better job of selling their economic value. “We are moneymakers,” she asserted, adding that the President’s Travel and Tourism Strategy would provide them with better opportunities to make their economic case. She also acknowledged that the agencies could not rely on appropriated dollars alone and, instead, needed to find ways to leverage funds through partnerships with friends groups, foundations and more. She pointed to the tremendous opportunity offered by AGO as the vehicle for continuing conversations about successful on-the-ground partnerships. Asked about encouraging risk taking and creativity within the agencies, she noted the need for innovation and declared that “there is plenty of room for creativity.” Parks in particular had a fair amount of discretion, she said, providing room to try innovative ideas. Mr. Frost commented that creating some kind of network to share innovative ideas – as suggested by an Exchange participant – was a great concept. “The ability to make effective connections is missing,” he said.

The group also discussed the need to encourage more flexibility and imagination across the board, from the administration of fees to the development of national park general management plans. How best to tackle such challenges? “We need four more years,” concluded Ms. Jacobson.

Information on ARC’s Recreation Exchanges is available at:

If you would like to contact Rachel Jacobson, she can be reached as follows:
Ms. Rachel Jacobson Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks U.S. Department of the Interior 1849 C Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20240

Recreation Exchanges are made possible by the following sponsors:

American Association for Nude Recreation
American Horse Council
American Motorcyclist Association
Bureau of Land Management
National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds
National Marine Manufacturers Association
National Park Service
National Tour Association
Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Forest Service