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Connecting With a Missing Voice in Conservation: The Next Generation

Tags: Youth
August 24, 2022 12:00 AM
By: DCNR

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​According to the Conservation and Natural Resources Act (PDF) established in 1995, Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are to be conserved and maintained for the use and benefit of all its citizens.

As stewards of the largest public land mass in the commonwealth, DCNR works to ensure that we are serving everyone -- including generations yet to come.

In addition to the scientists, foresters, park managers, and other experts who guide our efforts, DCNR also relies on guidance from the public.

This is evident in the number of committees and councils that advise DCNR about sustaining the natural environment and recreation initiatives.

Recently, DCNR realized there was some opinions still missing -- that of future generations.

This year, DCNR launched the Next Gen Council to increase public participation at state parks and forests; learn from a diversity of perspectives; and create lasting engagement with young people.

“I believe that young people should have a seat at the decision-making table. My generation is more diverse then all the others that came before that. Diversity increases the need for new thoughts, actions, and structures that help to make the world a more equitable place,” says council member Katie from Pittsburgh.

“Young adults with new ideas, combined with experienced conservationists with wisdom about the field, can ensure that the future of Pennsylvania public lands serves both the environment and all its people, says council member Molly from Bethel Park.

The goal of the Next Gen Council is to help DCNR find effective ways to offer recreation for all and to provide an ongoing communication channel between DCNR and this important segment of current and potential stewards.

Next Gen Council Identifies Areas of Focus

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Now underway, 23 members from across Pennsylvania, ranging from high school students to seasoned professionals, were selected from more than 100 applicants based on their enthusiasm, creativity, and willingness to bring a new perspective to DCNR’s work.

“I think a group of diverse young people have endless potential to impact our parks and natural resources in thoughtful, meaningful, creative, collaborative, and sustainable ways,” says council member Danny from York.

While getting established, council members were polled about their top interests relating to conservation and recreation, which have now been identified as: climate change, storytelling, and equity.

Considering these top interests, the council has begun to consider what it wants to accomplish in its two-year term in providing guidance to DCNR on these initiatives.

Input from the Next Gen Council in these three areas will be used to identify new approaches to DCNR’s programs, facilities, work with communities, and other opportunities.

Climate Change

The Next Gen Council identified climate change as a top concern. The council has been learning about the ways DCNR is working to prepare for and address climate change through energy-efficient buildings, solar arrays, electric vehicle charging, and more.

Among the actions laid out in DCNR’s Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Plan are managing our forests to sequester an increasing amount of carbon, ensuring that our public lands remain resilient, and helping private landowners and communities reduce their carbon footprint and adapt.

The Next Gen Council is looking at waste reduction and how DCNR can be a model for best practices in reducing waste.

New programs eliminating plastic waste and introducing composting in state parks and elsewhere are a particular interest in which the council hopes to play a role. The council hopes to get involved in a composting project.

“I would like to show how serious climate change is, and that if we do not change our ways as a society, we will put ourselves and our posterity in grave danger,” says council member Erin from Morrisville.

Storytelling

What kinds of stories do our public lands tell? How do we know? Next Gen Council members are learning about DCNR’s efforts to focus on cultural resources.

DCNR has developed a program that seeks to preserve, contextualize, and manage the shared public heritage and cultural resources of all people to the benefit of future generations.

Current projects include historical research, surveying historic buildings and sites, and archaeological studies.

The Next Gen Council wants to assist in identifying stories that link Pennsylvania landscapes and locations to our collective story, possibly creating a guide for a reference for future programs.

“I hope to start similar conversations on the Next Gen Council about how we can educate Pennsylvanians about the historical conflict between Native Americans and land rights in our state,” says council member Molly from Bethel Park.

Equity

Next Gen Council members also are learning about the ways equity intersects with the work of DCNR -- from local park grant programs, access to parks and open spaces, to our workforce, and how to ensure we are conserving and maintaining for the benefit of all the people.

The council would like to focus on identifying ways to improve accessibility of public spaces. It is interested in both physical access such as adaptive kayak launches, but also learning how to make trails and parks welcoming for those with invisible disabilities.

“The Next Gen Council will act as a catalyst for important change to promote the benefits of outdoor recreation to a more diverse population and create programing and volunteer opportunities that are equitable for all,” says council member Katie from Pittsburgh.

What’s Next for the Next Gen Council?

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Now that the council has gotten established and identified areas of focus, DCNR is excited for the expanded diversity of perspectives to help inform its programs and operations in climate change, storytelling, and equity.

The agency also is excited to see how this council will create lasting engagement with young people.

Not only are council participants sharing ideas, but they will have the opportunity to:

  • Learn about careers in conservation
  • Gain additional knowledge and experience in outdoor activities and sports in parks, forests, and on trails
  • Meet and work with DCNR staff and leaders
  • Obtain invaluable leadership experience
  • Help their communities by working with DCNR to serve all Pennsylvanians more effectively

By connecting our next generation with the outdoors and the work to conserve our natural places, DCNR hopes to create lasting change and necessary conditions to ensure all Pennsylvanians feel welcome on public lands.

“When people of different backgrounds, ages, and beliefs experience our forests and parks in person, then they will want to learn more about protecting these places. If people do not visit these parks and experience nature, they will not realize how important it is to protect these parks,” says council member Kat from Halifax.

Note: Next Gen Council members are being identified by first name only because some are minors and based on their personal preferences.


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