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New Deal, with a twist

If there is any upside to the federal fiscal woes, it’s the innovation some government officials have shown in coping with diminished resources. The latest example comes from Sally Jewell, the US secretary of the interior, who recently launched a modern-day version of the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps. At the height of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the corps, ultimately putting more than 3 million young men to work planting trees, fighting forest fires, and maintaining roads and trails. Jewell wants to create 100,000 new jobs for young people and veterans by 2017. This ambitious goal is all the more impressive because Jewell hopes to convince the private sector to help fund it.

Existing programs offer about 20,000 young Americans the chance to forge meaningful connections to wildlife and nature each year. Though these jobs don’t pay much — sometimes they pay nothing at all — the programs are already oversubscribed. The current administration, like its predecessors, failed in the past to make good on promises to expand these public-service initiatives. Jewell’s renewed push recognizes the need for outside funds. Her department’s budget for youth opportunities, $38.8 million in 2013, has been slashed by $3 million over the past fiscal year alone.

American Eagle Outfitters, the retail company, has pledged $1 million toward the new initiative, but Jewell’s aim is to raise $20 million from private sources over the next four years. Environmental stewardship is perhaps an easier sell to donors than, say, office supplies for the Social Security Administration. But Jewell’s success would certainly provide relief some for the young people looking for work today. And cultivating a new generation of American conservationists could have an even more lasting impact.