COLORADO – Since 2016, a signed agreement between the Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center program, and Student Conservation Association has helped foster a variety of youth-driven projects. The agreement was designed to encourage the use of prescribed fire on state, federal and private lands to mitigate fire risk.
The shared youth skills training, stewardship and restoration benefits generated by the partnership between that Oconaluftee Job Corps and TNC is a unique success. This stewardship opportunity has reaped numerous benefits to American communities and its application in Job Corps is changing lives one youth at a time.
Thanks to this agreement, some 89,0000 fuel suppression projects were completed in the Southern Region in 2018, helping them meet a variety of fire and fuels management objectives for that year.
Since the beginning of 2019, Oconaluftee Job Corps CCC, accredited through the Council of Occupational Education, has sent three students to work with TNC. Jahquel Jenkins, Dylan Falconer and Roscoe McNeil –all of them firefighter Type 2 qualified students– worked long workdays to gain the advanced education and the skills needed to have a long career in wildlife firefighting and timber production. Currently, they work performing natural resource work on prescribed fires while also acquiring experience working with non-native invasive species and projects such Long Leaf Pine restoration efforts. All three are receiving four months of hands-on training during their internships.
In the past three months, Jenkins, Falconer and McNeil worked on the Osceola and Apalachicola National Forests, Chattahoochee Fall Line, the TNC operated Moody Natural Forest, U.S. Fish and Wildlife public lands as well as with various private land owners. Soon the trio will head off to Arizona to work on Digital Timber Marking.
This year, Oconaluftee Job Corps and TNC, in a partnership with the Forest Service Southern Region, included timber training and timber project assignments as part of this program. This supplemental training provided to students will extend the program for an additional eight weeks. The Forest Service is under a congressional mandate to produce five million board feet of timber each year and timber training will directly support the agency’s mission, as well as opening up job placement for youth as entry level, career timber markers.
During the extended eight-weeks program, Job Corps students will earn Public Lands Corps hours that count towards the 640 hours needed to earn a Public Lands Corps certificate that allows them the opportunity for career federal government positions under the merit hiring system.
Oconaluftee and TNC are working to scale up this partnership and expand it as a successful model that other natural resource partners can embrace and help the USDA Forest Service in realizing its mission of caring for the land and serving people.
“This is an incredible stewardship opportunity. Our youth are gaining experience, knowledge and skills that will equip them for employment and to be our future natural resource champions for years to come,” stated Jim Copeland, Oconaluftee Job Corps Center Director.