Jul 11, 2012

21st Century Conservation Service Corps Nearing Reality

U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar could sign a memorandum of understanding and a directive by month’s end to establish the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC), marking a milestone for the America’s Great Outdoor (AGO) Initiative and the outdoor industry that has supported it.

Proponents of the 21CSC say it could double the amount of youth working on federal conservation projects to 40,000 or more in coming years with current funding sources by expanding use of available agency maintenance funds. In the process, it could turn a lot of urban kids not otherwise exposed to the outdoors onto hiking, camping, climbing and other types of outdoor recreation. (See sidebar.)

Sec. Salazar, who worked closely with Outdoor Industry Association to compile the 2011 AGO Report, told members of an advisory committee in a June 28 meeting that he hopes to sign both documents by the end of July pending review by the Obama administration.

“The 21st Century Conservation Service Corps is one of most tangible pieces of America Great Outdoors,” said Harry Bruell, the president of the Durango, CO-based Southwest Conservation Corps and chairman of the 21CSC Federal Advisory Committee. “AGO is not just scenic rivers and landscapes. It’s also 20,000, 40,000, or 100,000 young people on the ground working. These are real work programs just like the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and we intend for our work to have a similar impact on the country’s outdoor recreation infrastructure as the CCC had.”

Currently, the federal government spends only about $55 million of the more than $2 billion it spends annually on maintenance and conservation of public lands with youth conservation organizations. But the National Park Service projects it could triple the amount of work it assigns to youth crews simply by reallocating existing maintenance dollars over the coming two to three years.

The memorandum of understanding now being reviewed by the Department of Interior would commit the Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Commerce, Corporation for National and Community Service, Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a National Council for the 21CSC. The National Council would encourage land and water management agencies to engage 21CSC programs to complete important maintenance and conservation projects. The 21CSC Federal Advisory Committee, which includes REI Vice President Michael Collins, would then establish criteria for accrediting organizations that could compete for the projects.

Many of the country’s existing 142 youth conservation corps are expected to pursue accreditation, but other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could also do so.

“We are hoping in the next 2.5 months that we will have accredited programs and that by October we will have young people on the ground working with the 21CSC logo on their shirt,” said Bruell.