The Agriculture Dept. (USDA) commits $20 million in 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21 CSC) partnership agreements to provide 4,000 work opportunities for youth, young adults and veterans as part of a conservation workforce effort.
The agreements help the U.S. Forest Service accomplish mission-critical infrastructure and landscape restoration projects on the ground, officials said.
The funding represents investments by USDA of $13 million and $7 million from partner organizations. Contributions by the Forest Service and partners are expected to reach $40 million by the end of 2017 and provide 11,000 work opportunities. Some funds are already placed with 21 CSC partnership agreements; other funds will continue to be obligated throughout the summer.
The work accomplished by participants will include hundreds of miles of trail maintenance and improvements, watershed protection, removal of vegetation as part of wildfire prevention, improvements to recreation facilities, and other essential work on lands managed by the Forest Service.
About 20% of the 4,000 opportunities funded by this year’s commitment will be for Youth Conservation Corps jobs, a summer employment program on public lands that employ high school-aged youth. About 25% of the dedicated resources will support high-priority trail maintenance and improvements.
Projects will be on public lands in rural communities from coast to coast and will include diverse work experiences. Some examples among potentially hundreds of projects funded through this initiative include:
- Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests Youth Conservation Corps: The forest will host a residential crew of teenagers from the Lexington School for the Deaf to work on restoration projects and learn about wilderness practices in Vermont and New York. Residential programs make it possible for underserved youth from urban and rural communities who are not within commuting distance of a forest to experience natural and cultural resources work while earning at least minimum wage.
- Fishlake National Forest Accessibility Survey: Utah State University and Utah Conservation Corps Accessibility Crews will conduct accessibility surveys on Fishlake National Forest in Richfield, Utah. The project helps managers understand how the forest can improve access for people with varying ability levels and promote outdoor recreation and economic development.
- Trail Work Along the Appalachian: Groundwork USA and Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Conservation Leadership Corps will jointly field a crew of six youths and two crew leaders to work on segments of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia and North Carolina. This project is part of renewed Forest Service efforts to address backlogged maintenance work on historical trails across the country.
Annually, the Forest Service engages about 100,000 volunteers and 21st Century Conservation Service Corps participants. As part of an emphasis on strengthening and deepening connections with the public through outdoor experiences, the agency is committed to expanding its capacity for greater volunteerism and community service. The goal is to increase engagement to 115,000 volunteers by 2020 mostly through individual and partner organizations committed to the conservation of the public lands legacy.
Since the program started in 2014, the Forest Service generated nearly 30,000 opportunities for youth to work on projects that benefit public lands. Corps partners provide hands-on service and job training while working with the Forest Service and other land management agencies to build America’s rural and urban economies, strengthen America’s infrastructure, and modernize the way government works.
“The 21st Century Conservation Corps is not merely a summer jobs program,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This is about nurturing our public lands as well as our veterans, youth and young adults through a variety of opportunities to develop leadership potential and professional and personal connections through work across many diverse landscapes.”
Just recently, bipartisan legislation was introduced in Congress to further support the program in the House (H.R.2987) and Senate (S.1403).
The 21CSC Act would:
- Allow federal land and water management agencies – like the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service – to create formal, more flexible partnerships with 21CSC member organizations. additional federal agencies to more easily partner with 21CSC organizations to accomplish their goals.
- Provide two years of non-competitive hiring eligibility with federal agencies for young people and veterans who gain valuable skills through service in 21CSC programs.
- Expand the number of federal agencies that can work with 21CSC programs. Enlisting Conservation Corps to do priority work has often proven to be more cost-effective for federal agencies.
- Encourage federal agencies to collaborate, and require that they use only existing resources to work with 21CSC programs, meaning there would be no additional cost to tax-payers.
It would also streamline the effort and prioritize the engagement of disadvantaged youth in 21CSC programs, and establish a new Indian Youth Corps program.