New Conservation Service Corps Will Combat Unemployment

New Conservation Service Corps Will Combat Unemployment

By Molly, selected from TreeHugger

The  latest jobs report from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics  has given  Americans little hope to believe that our country will emerge from  its  economic doldrums soon. This summer, however, one bright spot could   emerge.

Earlier this year, a Federal Advisory Committee appointed  by the Departments  of Interior and Agriculture commenced work on  creating a set of recommendations  to establish and implement a 21st century Conservation Service Corps modeled after the  Great Depression era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). I am honored to serve on  this committee, and think it presents  an enormous opportunity for young men and  women, as well as veterans, to  serve their country at home in a beneficial way  for themselves and our  economy [Disclaimer: my views are my own and are not not  to be  interpreted as the views of the Committee].

For those who are not  familiar with its history, the CCC was a federal jobs  program that  enrolled young men nationwide in an effort to build parks, trails,  visitor centers, and complete conservation projects. In addition to  building a  significant portion of America’s parks and conservation  infrastructure, Corps  members received vital job skills and were paid  wages on a monthly basis, a  portion of which were sent home to their  families. During WWII, the CCC program  came to an end as federal  priorities shifted during wartime, and many CCC  members had already left  for jobs and to serve in the military.

It therefore seems  appropriate that as more of our troops return home today,  we put our  veterans’ training and expertise to use at home once more. According  to  BLS, unemployment crept up last month to 8.2 percent.  This number is even   higher for returning veterans (12.7 percent) and for youth (16.9 percent).   Additionally, in some low-income minority communities, unemployment rates   remain as high as 50 percent. The effects of long-term unemployment on these   Americans not only negatively affects their own lives, but has well-documented  impacts of significance on the national economy. In fact, unemployed young people are costing Americans billions of tax  dollars.

A  21st Century Conservation Service Corps would help to remedy this   problem, all while addressing a significant amount of deferred  maintenance on  America’s public lands in a cost-effective way. It’s  estimated that the  “backlog” of work that needs to occur in places like  national parks, national  forests, and on wildlife refuges exceeds $75  billion. One federal study showed  that Corps can complete the work at  56 percent of the cost that it would take  through other means. Of course, it’s  not entirely fair to say that this work  isn’t already occurring.  Claiming the historic CCC as their model, there is  already a network of  federal, state, and local nonprofit Corps that exists  nationwide,  enrolling approximately 30,000 young people annually. The national   AmeriCorps program has also helped to significantly benefit youth and   communities, and has proven to be a vital component of many Corps  programs.

The results of a recent six-year study evaluating the impact of  21 Corps indicated that they are effective:  educational enrollment and  employment by corps members increased from  50 percent to 67 percent over the  course of the study, and nearly two-thirds of  program participants (63.9  percent) said that their participation in a  Corps helped them secure a job, and  three out of four (77.1 percent)  said the experience gave them a job-hunting  advantage. These kinds of  benefits are in addition to the stipends and wages  that participants  receive and in turn, reinvest in local economies.

Some  examples of projects that are scheduled to occur this summer that would  be similar to projects completed by a future 21st Century Conservation  Service  Corps include: (1) the restoration of three ponds in the Angeles  National  Forest that provide habitat for the threatened California  red-legged frog by  the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, (2) the ongoing  repair of the eastern  boundary fence around Glacier National Park by the  Montana Conservation Corps,  (3) the work of Conservation Corps Minnesota  and Iowa to repair the essential  Feldtmann Ridge Trail of Isle Royale  National Park that allows visitors access  to the interior of the island,  (4) the restoration of historic CCC cabins and  prairie habitat by  American Youthworks’ crews in North Texas’s LBJ and Caddo  National  Grasslands, and (5) wildland firefighting and habitat restoration by   veterans fire corps operated by the California Conservation Corps,  Southwest  Conservation Corps, and the Student Conservation Association.

So  how can you help ensure that the vision for a 21st Century  Conservation  Service Corps becomes a reality? This week, the Federal  Advisory  Committee will submit its recommendations and report to Secretary of   Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. You can  urge  both of their departments to implement the Corps by writing emails,  letters,  and making phone calls. You can also contact your  Congressional representatives  and inform them that you support efforts  to implement this productive and vital  cost-saving effort. It will put  many more veterans and young people back to  work, boosting morale while  growing the nation’s short and long-term tax base.  It will also help to  restore some of America’s beloved national treasures.

Mary Ellen Ardouny is Interim CEO of The Corps Network, the national association of Service and  Conservation Corps.