How Bringing Back the Civilian Conservation Corps Could Reboot Our Public Lands

If passed, the 21CSC Act will address the maintenance backlog in our nation’s parks, recruit 70,000 new outdoorists and improve outdoor access for all Americans. Learn more and sign on.

By Eugenie Bostrom June 14, 2016

This week on Capitol Hill, OIA member Conservation Legacy and the Corps Network are co-hosting a congressional briefing on the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) Act. You may have heard rumblings about the 21CSC when:

  • Secretary Jewell addressed our industry at ORWM 2014 and announced that she was aiming to raise money in support of the program,
  • KEEN Utility launched its Project Build campaign,
  • The North Faces supported the 21CSC through its Your Land and  Never Stop campaigns that highlighted programs and heroes of the 21CSC, and its Explore Fund grant program is issuing $100,000 in grants to 21CSC organizations in 2016. In total The North Face has contributed $450,000 to 21CSC programs.
  • REI announced its $1 million collaboration with the National Park Foundation to support 21CSC programs.

You may have heard about it, but do you know why you should care about the 21CSC and its supportive legislation in Congress right now?

What exactly is the 21CSC Act?
The 21CSC is an effort to put thousands of America’s young people and veterans to work protecting, restoring and enhancing America’s great outdoors. It is a collective of almost 200 nonprofit and state- or county-run conservation corps programs—stemming from the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s—that engage about 30,000 young people and veterans annually in meaningful work and recreation experiences in the outdoors.

What makes conservation corps special?
Research shows that people engage more and for longer with environments and communities that they personally invest in. The difference between conservation corps and typical environmental engagement programs is that participants are wholly engaged, building a personal investment in the outdoors through service; working, recreating, learning, and personally growing for extended periods of times from four weeks to one year. This makes a huge impression on participants’ behavior in the outdoors and on their spending habits.

The Stats:
A university study found:

  • On average, corps participants intended on engaging in 2½ times more outdoor recreational activities than members of the comparison group.
  • Corps participants reported that they intended to spend 123 percent more money on outdoor recreation gear and apparel annually than members of the comparison group.

 How do conservation corps benefit the outdoor industry?

  • They create the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts by engaging youth and underserved audiences like veterans, communities of color and women.
  • They improve infrastructure on federal and close-to-home public lands and waters.
  • They engage in many projects that focus on climate-change resilience.
  • They allow management agencies to do more with less because corps are more cost-effective than federal contractors.

The goal of the 21CSC Act is to expand participation from roughly 30,000 participants to 100,000 participants annually. That is 100,000 young people, most of them new outdoor consumers, using outdoor gear in the field and starting a path toward becoming future outdoors enthusiasts. The conservation corps are a critical component of the $646 billon outdoor recreation economy. Corps participants represent a large slice of the future of outdoor users and consumers.

How the legislation will grow the 21CSC:
Last August, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced the bipartisan 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act (21CSC Act), and in April of this year, Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA) introduced the bill in the House of Representatives. Passage of this legislation would = enable land and water management agencies to work more efficiently with the conservation corps. It would allocate resources to ensure use of corps in relevant projects. Passage of the 21CSC Act will get critical backlogged maintenance projects completed by engaging the next generation of land stewards and outdoor users. Their work will create recreation access and will expand conservation and restoration efforts on public lands. The 21CSC Act means improved access for outdoor recreation on our national public lands and waters—from close-to-home community parks and trails to iconic national landscapes.