Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
SAN DIEGO NWRC: Secretary Sally Jewell Visits Los Angeles to Announce Pilot Program for the Urban Refuge Initiative
California-Nevada Offices , March 10, 2014
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Left: Lisa Cox, SDNWR Complex; Secretary Sally Jewell; Andy Yuen, SDNWR Complex; Shelly Backlar, Friends of the Los Angeles River; Chantel Jimenez; SDNWR Complex
Left: Lisa Cox, SDNWR Complex; Secretary Sally Jewell; Andy Yuen, SDNWR Complex; Shelly Backlar, Friends of the Los Angeles River; Chantel Jimenez; SDNWR Complex - Photo Credit: Anne Dove/NPS

By Lisa Cox

Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), Sally Jewell, joined Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to announce that The Friends of the Los Angeles River has been selected as one of eight pilot projects under the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership to connect urban youth with the great outdoors.

“Creating opportunities for urban young people to get outdoors not only supports healthy lifestyles but it also helps spark a passion to be good stewards of nature that will last a lifetime,” said Secretary Jewell during the press conference held at Los Angeles Historic State Park.

The announcement comes on the heels of President Obama’s fiscal year 2015 recent budget request, which supports the Department's youth initiative to inspire millions of young people to play, learn, serve and work outdoors through increased investments in the Department’s youth programs. The request proposes $50.6 million for DOI youth programs, representing a 37 percent  increase from 2014. Also included in the budget is an increase of $2.5 million for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative.

Prior to the press conference, students from Franklin High School led Secretary Jewell and Mayor Garcetti on a walk through the Los Angeles State Historic Park where they discussed how the National Park Service and the FWS are partnering with local organizations such as the Los Angeles Conservation Corps and the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR), to create opportunities to help urban students and families make connections with public lands.

Thanks to a partnership involving the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex and FOLAR, a mobile visitor and education center, called the River Rover, will soon bring the Los Angeles River to life for young people who might otherwise not establish a connection with nature. Environmental Education Specialist for the Complex, Chantel Jimenez, has been working with the Friends on this project since last year. A modified RV, the River Rover will be finished this spring and will provide educational opportunities for families and children in one of the most diverse and densely populated regions of the country.

“From the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach, the Los Angeles River flows through 14 cities and countless neighborhoods with approximately 9 million residents. The River Rover is a unique opportunity to engage diverse communities and highlight the value of the Los Angeles River as a refuge for urban residents” said Sally Backlar, Friends of the Los Angeles River Director of Education Programs.

The Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership aligns nicely with existing programs that have already been implemented by the FWS in Los Angeles. Leo Politi Elementary School and Walgrove Elementary School in west Los Angeles have created incredible Schoolyard Habitats that provide a living laboratory for the kids to make real-life connections to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects. According to the standardized test scores in science from Leo Politi 5th graders, students increased their science scores from 9 percent proficient in 2009 to a healthy average of 47 percent proficient, suggesting the possibility of the schoolyard habitat enhancing their learning abilities.

Other Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships include working with schools, municipal parks, private and public lands in New Haven, Connecticut, to create a network of wildlife-friendly habitat oases for migratory birds and other species. An environmental education site in Masonville Cove right on the edge of the Baltimore Harbor is another Partnership striving to foster a connection to nature for youth in an urban setting.

This urban partnership program with National Wildlife Refuges and other natural areas surrounded by urban landscapes has an exciting future, and the San Diego NWR Complex looks forward to working with the many partners to make it all possible!

For more information on the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program, visit:

Lisa Cox is a public information specialist at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge in San Diego, California.

Photo set of Secretary Jewell's visit
Contact Info: Lisa Cox, 619.476.9150 ext. 106, lisa_cox@fws.gov
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