Last month, I was thrilled to participate in a service project in Portland, Oregon with Mayor Charlie Hales and members of the Northwest Youth Corps. I spent the rainy afternoon pulling weeds at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge with young people from the area. These types of hands-on experiences – rain or shine – are ones that can start a lifetime connection between young people and the outdoors, helping to foster the next generation of conservationists.
During my visit to Portland, we announced a public-private partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Federation to support conservation employment and volunteer opportunities that will expose young people to valuable work experience on our public lands. The $4.2 million in grants were awarded to 22 projects in 10 states and will support more than 600 young people with employment opportunities and over 1,000 with volunteer opportunities throughout the West.
These grants support the Obama Administration’s efforts to develop a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) — a national effort to provide young Americans and returning veterans with training and work experience on our public lands to develop the next generation of conservationists. President Obama knows there is nothing more important for our country, or for our communities, than growing our economy and strengthening the middle class. In order to build the workforce of the future, young people need jobs that will help them develop the skills and pipelines to careers. This is what the Administration’s Youth Jobs+ initiative is all about. And it’s exactly what the 21CSC aims to do.
The 22 conservation projects we announced are as diverse as the students they engage:
- Through the Celebrate Shorebirds Program (Celebra las Aves Playeras), the Bureau of Land Management and Environment for the Americas will educate Latino youth in Colorado, Oregon, and California on natural resource careers while gathering valuable data on migratory shorebirds. This helps address the challenges federal agencies face with recruiting and retaining underserved audiences.
- In Nevada, we will employ a 10-person crew to restore sage-grouse habitat through the Nevada Conservation Corp and will recruit and train Native American youth to become crew members.
- In Oregon, 40 at-risk youth from Portland will build trails and improve habitat for salmon and trout in the Sandy River Basin.
- And in Arizona, a new pilot project will engage youth in high school through community college in the Arizona Youth Conservation Engagement Pathway Pilot Project, which will produce an education curriculum that will be made available statewide.
Through projects such as these, and through other 21CSC programs, we aim to expose more young Americans to the great outdoors and offer career opportunities in conservation and historic preservation. The Interior Department is committed to developing our next generation of conservation stewards, and providing service activities on our public lands for the benefit of all Americans. These opportunities will not only provide valuable work experiences building trails, clearing out hazardous fuels, or cleaning up river—but they also can help awaken a love for the outdoors that lasts a lifetime.
Sally Jewell is the Secretary of the Department of the Interior.