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Senator Hirono Leads Call to Support National Park Visitors and Workers   

September 30, 2017, 9:00 AM HST
* Updated September 28, 8:37 PM
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Left to right: National Parks Subcommittee Chairman Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Senator Hirono, and John Leong.

Senator Mazie K. Hirono, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, recently convened a hearing on how to encourage young people to visit our national parks. Witnesses included John Leong, Chief Executive Officer of KUPU, an AmeriCorps program that provides young people with service learning and educational opportunities through maintaining and preserving Hawai‘i’s natural resources.

“While America is growing more diverse and urban, and younger generations are making up a greater share of the population, these trends are not reflected in visitors to our national parks,” said Senator Hirono. “KUPU and programs like it are helping to fill this gap by training our keiki to become stewards of the aina and serve our communities as Hawai‘i’s future conservationists.”

Senator Hirono also heard from leaders at the National Park Service and Niantic, the makers of Pokemon Go, regarding challenges and opportunities for national parks to engage the next generation of park visitors and conservation workers.

“The work being done to improve our national parks is a vehicle that is helping to unlock the potential in our youth and it’s really allowing them to explore careers in conservation. But, at the same time they are getting transferable job skills like leadership, communication, teamwork, responsibility, the value of hard work, and transferable technical skills that they can take with them throughout life,” said John Leong, chief executive officer of KUPU in his testimony today.

According to a 2015 report, only seven percent of National Park Service (NPS) employees were 29 or younger, while 75% were 40 or older. However, the Trump administration’s budget proposes a 13% cut to the NPS’s overall budget and an 11% cut to visitor services.

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Senator Hirono has been a strong advocate for federal funding to support workforce development for future leaders in conservation and to ensure that people of all ages have access to our national parks. In August, Senator Hirono met with leaders and interns from KUPU and the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). Programs like KUPU help provide job training and opportunities for youth interested in pursuing careers in conservation. As a result of this partnership, 50% of DLNR’s Makiki Baseyard workforce are KUPU corps members or alumni.

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