21st Century Conservation Service Corps Intended To Put Youth, Veterans To Work On Public Lands

With a nod to the success of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, a number of federal agencies have agreed to move forward with the Obama administration's 21st Century Conservation Service Corps to put youth and veterans to work across the public landscape.

The Service Corps will be tasked with protecting, restoring and enhancing America’s outdoors.

Through a Memorandum of Understanding finalized Thursday, the secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Chair of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the assistant secretary for the Army (Civil Works) established the National Council for the 21CSC—fully implementing the first recommendation of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative introduced by President Obama in 2010.

“The President’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative is helping to connect Americans from all backgrounds with the recreational, economic and health benefits of our nation’s extraordinary natural resources,” said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “The 21st Century Conservation Service Corps will help prepare the leaders of the future by providing youth with valuable opportunities for recreation, career development and service to their community and their nation.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the Service Corps, in the legacy of the CCC, will "help build and train a workforce who fully represent the diversity of America while creating the next generation of environmental stewards and improving the condition of our public lands.”

The release announcing the MOU did not provide any details on how the Corps would be recruited or which projects it would be involved with. The CCC, of course, helped construct many of the trails, roads, and structures in the National Park System of the 1930s.

The 21CSC is focused on helping young people – including diverse low-income, underserved and at-risk youth, as well as returning veterans – gain valuable training and work experience while accomplishing needed conservation and restoration work on public lands, waterways and cultural heritage sites. It is expected to build on existing partnerships with youth conservation corps across the country to engage thousands of young Americans in hands-on service and job training experiences on public lands and community green spaces.

“By coordinating resources across the federal family and working with partners, the 21CSC will accomplish important restoration work, provide more job and training opportunities to a diverse group of young Americans, expand educational opportunities for youth, and create meaningful pathways to careers-- all while reconnecting America’s youth with the great outdoors,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

The Department of Commerce has employed returning veterans in conjunction with the California Conservation Corps.

“21CSC is an important resource for helping put our youth back to work while promoting environmental stewardship,” said acting-Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank. “And at the same time, it’s a critical opportunity to focus on making certain our veterans have access to quality jobs. We here at Commerce plan to use 21CSC to expand NOAA’s existing habitat conservation programs to provide technical training to veterans and youth so they can develop expertise in the conservation sector.”

21CSC members and their contributions range from youth corps members helping run shelters and restore parks and beaches in New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to youth and veterans building trails and leading interpretation programs in remote national parks, forests and coastal habitats.

“The 21CSC program is a great example of how collaboration – not only across federal agencies, but also among others in the private and public sectors – can bring about economic, environmental and health benefits for those who need it the most: our youth and our returning heroes,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “America is home to some of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in the world. The 21CSC will not only help our young people feel more of a connection to those spaces, but it will also ensure our treasured outdoors are preserved for generations to come.”

Creating the National Council was a key recommendation from the Federal Advisory Committee in support of outdoor youth engagement announced by Secretaries Salazar and Vilsack in December 2011. Composed of representatives of the nation’s conservation, service and workforce development groups, along with representatives from federal agencies, this committee was charged with advising the federal agencies on how to build on the important ongoing work of local, state, federal and non-profit youth conservation corps.

The National Council will work across the federal government to support the 21CSC by enhancing partnerships with existing youth corps programs around the nation; stimulating existing and new public-private partnerships; and aligning the investment of current federal government resources. Members will be represented on the National Council by members of the senior leadership of each agency, bureau or office.