As Parks Suffer, Interior Hiring Youths to Groom 'New Generation of Conservationists'

In addition to federal funds, some of the money for the conservation jobs is coming from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Wells Fargo.

Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF, said the partnership was necessary "to foster a new generation of conservationists."

The jobs are divided among 22 projects ranging from fence modifications for the black-tailed prairie dog in Arizona to San Joaquin River weed management in central California. Another program is designed to teach Latino youth appreciation for shorebirds, and yet another will employ "youth from urban communities, Indian reservations and small Montana towns" to "enhance habitat" along Montana's portion of Lewis & Clark's route.

A month ago, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) sent a six-page letter to Jewell chiding the department for wasteful spending still undertaken even after sequestration threatened to delay the opening of Yellowstone National Park and the local community had to step in to plow the roads.

This includes the expansion of drone use to survey the habitat of pygmy rabbits in Idaho and count sheep in Nevada, and the designation of 13 new national historic landmarks including a $4 million per year project in Delaware lauded by Vice President Joe Biden.

"It makes little sense to expand the number of sites at the same time the budget of every other park is being cut and visitors are being turned away from visiting the White House," Coburn wrote. "…I would urge you to cease the designation of all new parks, monuments, and other sites and stop the expansion of existing parks until access to our greatest and most visited national treasures -- such as the Grand Canyon where 'visitors can expect longer lines' and shortened hours at the visitor center this summer -- has been restored."

Coburn asked Jewell for a list of all new monuments and parks as well as special resource studies launched since sequestration began March 1.

He also suggested the Interior Department nick frivolous spending such as the National Park Service's sponsorship of the National Covered Bridge Conference in Dayton, Ohio, at the beginning of June or its sponsorship of the State of the Beaver 2013 Conference in Oregon earlier this year.

"I believe your background in the private sector can assist the Department in avoiding many of the dire warnings that have been announced," Coburn nudged Jewell.