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Interior Secretary: Natural Areas in West Disappearing at Alarming Rate

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell speaking at the National Geographic Society for the 100th Anniversary of the creation of the National Parks. (Tami Heilemann/U.S. Department of the Interior)
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell speaking at the National Geographic Society for the 100th Anniversary of the creation of the National Parks. (Tami Heilemann/U.S. Department of the Interior)
April 20, 2016

SEATTLE - U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell celebrated 100 years of National Parks and spoke about the next 100 years of public lands at the National Geographic Society in Washington Tuesday.

The University of Washington graduate said public lands in the west face a number of threats, including climate change and "extreme movements" like the armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge for 41 days.

She illustrated how fast natural western lands are vanishing.

"A new analysis by the non-profit Conservation Science Partners finds that natural areas out west are disappearing," she says. "At the rate of a football field every two-and-a-half minutes."

Jewell said development also threatened public lands, adding armed movements like the one in Oregon put public lands "at risk of being sold off for a short-term gain to the highest bidder."

In the Oregon case, occupiers demanded the government turn public land over to local control.

Public lands provide an economic boost for the state of Washington. Analysis by the state in 2015 found outdoor recreation supported nearly 200,000 jobs, more than both the technology industry and the aerospace industry.

Chase Gunnell, communications manager for the group Conservation Northwest, was excited the secretary highlighted the economic value of public lands.

"There's an intrinsic value of our natural heritage and our wild places and our wildlife," Gunnell says. "But so often that economic benefit gets overlooked."

On Monday, Jewell announced $95 million will be distributed to states from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to support local recreation and conservation projects.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA