USDA invests $20 Million to hire 11,000 youth and veterans on forest lands

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today that in fiscal year 2014, the U.S. Forest Service invested a total of $20 million in partnerships that supported work and training opportunities for 11,000 youth and veterans on national forests and grasslands. Service members worked on projects that addressed restoration, hazardous fuels, watershed protection, wilderness stewardship, recreation access, facilities management, trail maintenance, and other natural and cultural resource priorities.

“The partnerships associated with developing the next generation of conservationists offer an opportunity to connect veterans and our young people to the great outdoors,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This program engages veterans and young people from diverse backgrounds, including underserved populations, and equips them with the knowledge and critical job skills they need to pursue careers in conservation and land management.”

“The 21st Century Conservations Service Corps gives young people and veterans real-world experience that pays dividends for their career prospects and the health of America’s wild places,” said U.S Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This partnership and the people who make it work are a big part of the future of conservation in America.”

The Forest Service provided employment opportunities for youth and veterans from coast to coast and in every region, including Hawaii and Alaska. The work accomplished by these youth and veterans was conducted in support of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC), a part of the Obama Administration’s “America’s Great Outdoors” Initiative. A collaborative effort with public and private partners, the 21CSC puts America’s youth and veterans to work protecting, restoring and enhancing America’s great outdoors. Through the 21CSC, young people and veterans accomplish meaningful work and gain important personal and professional skills while building a lifelong connection to the outdoors.

The funds invested by the Forest Service were matched on almost a one-to-one basis by partners and exceeded the 2013 performance results for this program by nearly 30 percent. To achieve these outcomes, the Forest Service entered into new partnerships that connected more youth and veterans with national service opportunities, restoring and conserving natural and historic resources on national forests and grasslands.

For example, a $3.7 million joint funding collaboration with the Corporation for National and Community Service is engaging hundreds of AmeriCorps national service members on public lands projects as part of the 21CSC. A partnership with the Veterans Fire Corps helped employ veterans on the fire line, a place where their military skills – including decisiveness, solid judgment, teamwork and attention to detail – contribute to successful work on the ground. A partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation helped connect 190 youth to projects on Forest lands. And ongoing partnerships with many of the 140 recognized 21CSC member organizations and additional supporting partners helped to expand opportunities for youth and veterans, and build support for the 21CSC.

Today’s announcement coincides with tomorrow’s celebration of National Public Lands Day (NPLD), the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands. The 156 NPLD projects that are happening tomorrow on forests and grasslands are examples of how much can be done by ordinary citizens. For instance, Montana Conservation Corps members are working with REI, the National Forest Foundation and Mountain Bike Missoula to coordinate volunteers of all ages to improve the Sawmill Gulch Trail, a wilderness area on the Lolo National Forest.

With 21CSC, which provides compensation to participants, USDA and its federal and non-federal partners are building on the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps and other conservation corps efforts that followed. While giving young people and veterans important job skills and accomplishing critical work on our public lands, this national public-private partnership is creating a pipeline of conservation citizen stewards and developing the next generation of natural and cultural resources professionals.

Next year, the Forest Service will continue to work with partners to connect more of our youth and veterans with similar opportunities. The charter for this initiative calls for development of “national partnerships to support 21CSC.” These partnerships with national non-profit and for-profit organizations enable 21CSC to reach its goal of engaging 100,000 young people and veterans per year in conservation service.

Article by the U.S. Forest Service.