California Conservation Corps Corpsmembers Continue Fire Response

From the California Conservation Corps

This week the California Conservation Corps has more than 600 corpsmembers -- 47 crews -- out on eight different wildfires, including the devastating Valley Fire in Lake County.

Crews are involved in fire suppression and fire camp support for Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service. There are also two crews helping displaced residents at a Red Cross shelter.

Photos: Camarillo fire crews on the Rough Fire in Fresno County

Boiler Plate: 
This week the California Conservation Corps has more than 600 corpsmembers -- 47 crews -- out on eight different wildfires, including the devastating Valley Fire in Lake County.

Photos of the Month: August 2015

Keep updating those Facebook photos! We'll collect some of our favorite photos posted on Corps Facebook pages within the past month and post them on this blog. Here are some of our favorites from August 2015. 

California Conservation Corps 



Montana Conservation Corps 

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps - CO, taken by Corpsmember Taylor Hobson


Washington Conservation Corps  

Civic Works 



Green City Force 

Vermont Youth Conservation Corps 

Larimer County Conservation Corps 

Greater Miami Service Corps 

Youth Conservation Corps 

St. Bernard Project



Onondaga Earth Corps 

LA Conservation Corps 


The Corps Network Joins SCA to Celebrate 99th Birthday of National Park Service

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and SCA President and CEO Jaime Maytas prepare to blow out the birthday candles.

Who doesn't enjoy celebrating a birthday? Take pity on those who can't or don't enjoy sinking their teeth into a delicious piece of cake.

Fortunately for The Corps Network's staff, on Tuesday we were invited to join the Student Conservation Association and the National Park Service for a "Servabration" at the Washington Memorial in honor of the National Park Service's 99th Birthday. Speakers included SCA President and CEO Jaime Maytas, National Mall and Memorial Parks Superintendent Karen Cucurullo, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, and SCA Alum Ayomide Sekiteri. There were also a few small opportunities for fun, including a trivia contest and a small service project to assemble seed bombs.

SCA Alum and Volunteer Centennial Ambassador 
Ayomide Sekiteri with Mary Ellen Sprenkel, CEO of The Corps Network.

You can see more photos of The Corps Network staff and the event here.

Celebrations of the birthday of the National Park Service took place nationwide and online. The National Park Foundation published a list of 99 Ways to Find Your Park. For comedic pleasure, a Mother Jones story that made the rounds online titled, "I Can't Stop Reading One-Star Yelp Reviews of National Parks." Clearly those people didn't watch Acadia Gettin' Funky. The National Parks Conservation Association shared a nice new video [watch below].


We look forward to continuing to celebrate the National Park Service's 99th birthday and especially its upcoming Centennial! We know that The Corps Network and our members have played, and will continue to play, a large role in the stewardship of our national park system. We look forward to telling these stories over the coming years.

Boiler Plate: 
Who doesn't enjoy celebrating a birthday? Take pity on those who can't or don't enjoy sinking their teeth into a delicious piece of cake. Fortunately for The Corps Network's staff, on Tuesday we were invited to join the Student Conservation Association and the National Park Service for a "Servabration" at the Washington Memorial in honor of the National Park Service's 99th Birthday. Speakers included SCA President and CEO Jaime Maytas, National Mall and Memorial Parks Superintendent Karen Cucurullo, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, and SCA Alum Ayomide Sekiteri. There were also a few small opportunities for fun, including a trivia contest and a small service project to assemble seed bombs.

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council Proposes an $8 Million Gulf Coast Conservation Corps Program

A Climb CDC Corpsmember and Texas Conservation Corps Crewleader work together on a pilot project as part of The Corps Network's Gulf Coast Restoration Initiative. Photo Credit: The Nature Conservancy

Last week the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration (RESTORE) Council released its Draft Initial Funded Priorities List. Using funds obtained from settlements following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Restore Council now aims to solicit public feedback on $139.6 million of proposed projects by September 28th. In addition to the opportunity to provide written feedback, several public meetings have been scheduled in Gulf Coast states. 

Among the proposed projects is a Gulf Coast Conservation Corps program. The $8 million program would be administered by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with support from the U.S. Department of Interior, as well as the state governments of Gulf Coast states. In addition to training local youth and veterans, a major emphasis would be placed on the engagement and recruitment of tribal youth. The Restore Council states that "The initial recruitment target is to employ approximately 25 crewmembers per State, per year, with a total of approximately 375 crewmembers working a total of 750,000 hours."

Ecologically the program would aim to restore at least 500 acres of coastal habitat, as well as assist with the completion of other priority projects, including some of those that are part of the Draft Initial Funded Priorities List. Rather than establishing a new federal Corps program, NOAA, DOI, and the states would partner with pre-existing regional and local Corps programs who could help coordinate the implementation of the program.

The Corps Network's CEO Mary Ellen Sprenkel released the following statement on the proposed Gulf Coast Conservation Corps project:

"The RESTORE Council's commitment to restoring the Gulf Coast is not only a victory for the ecosystems, wildlife, and the Gulf of Mexico— it’s a victory for people. Thanks to the support of the Walton Family Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and many partners in the Gulf Region over the past year and a half, we have demonstrated through several pilot projects that young people have the will and desire to be involved in this critical work. By recruiting local young people and veterans to these new, high-impact demonstration projects, a growing tide of people throughout the Gulf Region will see how empowering youth to learn how to restore their region’s lands and waters pays off for local economies and communities, as well as for the Corpsmembers themselves." 

The Corps Network has been working with a number of its members and partners in the Gulf Coast Region to demonstrate the role Conservation Corps can play in coastal restoration and in the development of a locally available conservation workforce. A number of pilot projects are ongoing as part of our Gulf Coast Restoration Initiative. 

Boiler Plate: 
Among the proposed projects is a Gulf Coast Restoration Corps program. The $8 million program would be administered by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with support from the U.S. Department of Interior, as well as the state governments of Gulf Coast states. In addition to training local youth and veterans, a major emphasis would be placed on the engagement and recruitment of tribal youth. The Restore Council states that "The initial recruitment target is to employ approximately 25 crewmembers per State, per year, with a total of approximately 375 crewmembers working a total of 750,000 hours."

YCC Responds to Tornado


On the night of Sunday, August 2nd, an EF1 tornado with wind speeds up to 100 miles per hour touched down in Lake County, IL. The storm created a path of destruction over seven miles long, prompting Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), based in Waukegan, IL, to adjust their programming schedule to offer disaster response assistance.

YCC YouthBuild members have spent the better part of this week clearing debris. Their first stop was the home of an elderly woman whose house and driveway were buried in downed trees. The crew was able to clean the property and free her car. They next offered assistance at the home of a person with disabilities. So far, the crew has touched nine homes.

“It just so happens that this is my community and these are my neighbors,” said Ben Richards, YCC Program Director. “It brought a lot together for me. I was uplifted personally by what YCC AmeriCorps can and did do.”

Financial Literacy Training for Corpsmembers Through DOI Federal Credit Union

Mario Mejia (Center) of DOI Federal Credit Union at Green City Force 

Did you know that the Department of the Interior Federal Credit Union (DOIFCU) offers a free, comprehensive financial literacy training designed for Corpsmembers?

Through both The Corps Cooperative and The Corps Network, staff and Corpsmembers from member organizations of The Corps Network, as well as their immediate family members, have the option to bank with DOIFCU. Part of the Credit Union’s mission is to not only offer the resources to manage your money, but to help people understand money management practices, too.

“My main goal is to link knowledge to the resources,” said Mario Mejia, The Corps Network’s account manager for DOIFCU and the lead organizer of the financial literacy training program. “Everyone has financial needs, but everyone isn’t eligible to access resources.  Partnerships like this open the doors to meet financial needs through competitive resources in a low to no fee structure, that’s step one. Step two is simply providing the literacy so that each member is equipped with the knowledge to maximize the resources. I see it as, you can have a car and keys, yet learning how to drive is the game changer.

Mario recently visited New York City to conduct a training with Corpsmembers from Green City Force. The topics covered included Credit Unions v. Banks; Money Management Benefits; Steps to Improve your Financial Management; Budgeting; Practical Money-Saving Tips; Banking 101; Credit 101; and Money Management Tools. The training involves an informational presentation as well as activities that prompt Corpsmembers to make financial goals, consider their current expenses, and develop an action plan for how to meet their goals.  

Mario Mejia (Center) of DOI Federal Credit Union at Green City Force 

“This training is specific to Corps, with a focus on youth and young adults from every stage of life,” said Mario. “…I’ve found that over the span of years from adolescence to young adulthood can have its advantages or disadvantages.  During that time frame, several life changes can take place that the average person isn’t prepared for, and can have a lasting effect on your finances.  This can range from situations such as first time homebuyer, birth of a child/children, a loss of a loved one, college expenses, first time saving/checking accounts, etc.  This is where access to financial resources and literacy has its greatest effect.  We realize every situation may be different, but good money habits coupled with access to services and financial coaches is the best way to direct through life’s changes.  Sadly, it doesn’t take much to end up in an upward climb to get back on track.  Often times your credit can be damaged even before you’re 18, which a good amount of youth encounter from misusage due to family members or lack of information.  Even if it’s not the topic of credit I regularly receive questions like: how do I get started, how do I get ahead, or how do I fix that…?”

Though Mario hosted the training for Green City Force, the presentation and activities have accompanying notes, allowing Corps staff the flexibility to lead the training themselves. Mario is currently working with a Corps to develop a way to do the training via video conference so Corps staff will be better equipped to present and answer Corpsmember questions in future trainings. Additionally, though the training at Green City Force offered a general overview of financial management, Mario is happy to customize the training around particular topics a Corps may want to cover.

“To me, the Green City Force training was extremely successful,” said Mario. “I considered the success rate based on their questions from the beginning, and how much their questions advanced by the end.  I watched as they began to connect the dots, internalizing the information and making it relevant to their own lives.  I heard the side conversation and as a presenter I watched the principles germinate throughout the room. That said I knew they were getting it...People walked away and I felt like they were encouraged and equipped with credit union sheltered services, a plan, and knowledge to make S.M.A.R.T decisions with their financial lives.  The resources were going to be a lot more successful because something clicked. They said I can do this and I feel comfortable doing this.”

Mario is currently in conversations with several Corps about the training and is excited to talk with any other Corps that are interested. In the future, Mario hopes to provide the training as a day-long seminar or as 2-hour-long segments for each topic that the Corps wants to cover. All seminars are customized to fit your needs.  At the end of the training, Corpsmembers receive a certificate in recognition of their achievements and commitment to better their lives with sound money management habits.

Interested Corps can contact Mario by email, phone (703-801-5713), or through the Special Offers page of The Corps Network website’s Members Only section.

***This is a free service provided to all Members, Affiliates and AmeriCorps Basic Members of The Corps Network.

How Northwest Youth Corps’ American Sign Language Crews Overcome the Communication Barrier

Northwest Youth Corps (NYC) has developed a program dedicated to recruiting Deaf and Hard of hearing youth, and deploying them as American Sign Language (ASL) Inclusion crews. This fits into the Corps’ mission. Since 1984, the Corps has strived to provide opportunities for youth and young adults to learn, grow, and experience success. They focus on giving youth chances to experience education, challenges, community service, and develop critical life and leadership skills. NYC enrolls over 1000 young people each year.

Emma Bixler was crucial to making the American Sign Language program a reality. She is the Inclusion Coordinator of the program. She stays with the crew for most of the summer program not only as the coordinator but as the interpreter as well. She helped bring the program to life, after working on similar inclusive crews at Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa.

The ASL crews consist of ten young people between the ages of 16 and 19, whom are Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing. They are accompanied by two Crew Leaders, who are fluent in ASL. The ASL crews work throughout the state of Oregon and in Northern California to maintain and construct hiking trails, restore habitat for native plants and animals, and complete many other environmental conservation projects.

As part of the experience, Corpsmembers who can hear learn American Sign Language and other lessons throughout their term of service so that they can better communicate with their peers.

“We give them flash cards and some lessons to go over, so they can learn basic signs to communicate with the Deaf youth… The growth that occurs with communication over the next five weeks is very impressive… To see that growth is really exciting.” says Gruening.

Gruening says that after an initial period of acclimation, the ASL Inclusion crews have a similar experience to other crews.

“They have the same amount of challenges any other crew would have: they are all out of their comfort zones, not being able to sleep in their beds, no showers, not being able to go on their cell phones.”

Each of the crews in the summer program get to meet during the weekends. The first couple of weeks are a little shaky but through fun activities and bonding experiences, the crews get better every day at communicating to the point where they don’t require an interpreter.

The ASL Inclusion Crew program at Northwest Youth Corps is about so much more than land conservation and leadership development. It’s about uniting Deaf youth and hearing youth so that they have a common experience.

Gruening remarks that “I wish people could see what I see, when I see all the youth the first week off in their own little corner like really shy and quiet, you know? Not really wanting to engage with everyone. Then by the end of the five weeks they are this huge group that have learned to overcome the communication barrier. While also just learning to have fun and work with each other, even though it might be difficult.”

You can watch a video demonstration advertising the ASL InclusionCrew program below:

Photos of the Month: July 2015

Keep up the good work posting all of your photos and memories! They say an image is worth a thousand words. Therefore, each photo has a story behind it that we would like to see! Which is why we take some of our favorites that you shared and put them on our blog. Here you can see the photos we hand picked for July! Wow that was fast, now get ready to snap more photos for August!


American Conservation Experience


American Youthworks


Anchorage Park Foundation/Youth Employment in Parks (YEP)


Arizona Conservation Corps


Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa


Greening Youth Foundation




Larimer County Conservation


Maine Conservation Corps


Montana Conservation Corps


Montana Conservation Corps 2


PowerCorps PHL


Rocky Mountain Youth Corps


Rocky Mountain Youth Corps


Southeast Conservation Corps


Texas State Parks Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy


Vermont Youth Conservation Corps


Western Colorado Conservation Corps


WisCorps – Wisconsin Youth Conservation Corps, Inc.


Mary Ellen's Blog: Outdoors for All


Originally published on the Huffington Post 

On September 30th, just 61 days from now, one of the most important funding streams supporting the conservation of our public lands and waters is set to expire.

Created by an Act of Congress in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is critical to the maintenance of our parks and the protection of outdoor recreation access. LWCF has provided funds to nearly every state and every county in the country for the creation of parks, the protection of natural treasures and the expansion of outdoor recreational opportunities. There's a good chance that your local playground, public park, or community ice rink benefited from LWCF.

Congress established the LWCF as a way to do something positive for the environment with revenue from oil and gas drilling. The idea was to protect natural places for all Americans as a counterbalance to the depletion of natural resources. Now, unless Congress reauthorizes the fund, our public lands and waters are at risk of falling even further into disrepair. Every year, oil and gas companies pay $900 million dollars to the federal government, but most of this money does not go towards conservation. Since 1987, the average annual appropriation for the LWCF has been only $40 million.

Protecting public lands is at the heart of the Corps movement. The Civilian Conservation Corps, the predecessor to today's Corps, was created during the Great Depression as a way to put millions of young men to work constructing new parks, planting billions of trees, and restoring our existing public lands infrastructure. Modern Corps continue this legacy; on any given day, you can see Corps hard at work building trails and restoring habitats in our national, state and local parks. The work for many LWCF-supported public lands maintenance and improvement projects has been carried out by Corpsmembers. If LWCF is allowed to expire, Corps could suffer from decreased project funding, but, more importantly, we all could suffer from reduced outdoor recreation access.

The great outdoors should be available to all, but many Americans, especially those living in urban areas, need parks and recreational facilities in order to get outside. Even people who are surrounded by nature in more rural communities benefit from well-maintained trails and waterways free of pollutants and invasive species. Access to the outdoors should be a right, not a privilege. But we need funding - like the LWCF - and dedicated individuals - like those involved in the Corps movement - to protect this right by maintaining our public lands and waters.

This summer, The Corps Network introduced Eli the Elk. Similar to how Smokey Bear speaks about the dangers of forest fires, and Woodsy Owl reminds people to "Lend a hand - care for the land," Eli is traveling around the country as a paper cutout to highlight the importance of America's treasured public lands, and the federal funding that supports conservation, through his slogan "Conserve today for access tomorrow!" If you agree with Eli's message, follow him on Twitter to show your support. The week of July 27th - 31st is Eli's first social media campaign; be sure to get online and use the hashtags #EliElk and #outdoors4all to help him spread his important message to as many people as possible. If you plan to be outside soon, print out a copy of Eli and take him with you. Snap a picture with him and share it on Twitter @ElitheElk. Every new person engaged in the campaign helps. You can also help protect the outdoors by signing the Land and Water Conservation Fund's petition to Congress to reauthorize the LWCF.

This is a very important time for public lands conservation. We need to take action now.

Adaptation: Emergency drought funding gives Calif.'s Conservation Corps a chance to cut forest fire risks

- "A field team of the CCC ponders what they should cut next"


The Article was originally published by: E&E Publishing LLC

The California Conservation Corps' Website


The whine of chain saws fills Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, located just a few miles north of Santa Cruz, Calif., a beach town best known for its surfing. From atop the wooden observation deck, perched on the rare and unique Santa Cruz sandhills -- an area of the park that 10 million years ago was part of the Pacific Ocean -- two dozen California Conservation Corps (CCC) members wearing brightly colored hard hats can be seen hacking away at everything green down in the forest below.

"This type of flora and fauna is fire-dependent -- this sandhill chaparral habitat needs bare sand," said Tim Reilly, an environmental scientist with the Santa Cruz district of the California Department of Parks and Recreation. "It's a very rare habitat -- probably the most rare in California -- and it's a challenge to know what type of fire we need to use to manage it."

If left unattended, about once every 85 years, a natural fire cycle would restore the Santa Cruz sandhills to its sandy, ideal state. But as protected public lands, the area is now under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Parks and Recreation and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. Due to a lack of manpower, the agencies had been taking a mostly hands-off approach.

"We have a huge fuel load here," Reilly said, gesturing around him at the Douglas firs and oak trees rising out of the brush-covered landscape. "Looking around it made us nervous."

In 2010, the agencies collaborated to begin doing prescriptive burns, or controlled burns, for 50 acres of the sandhills. Five years later, they've only managed to clear 20.

For the next three months, Parks and Recreation and Cal Fire will have the manpower available to them to work on this project and many more in the region's forests, thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) March 2014 emergency drought relief funding package that allocated $687.4 million to communities facing water, food and housing assistance. Part of that money was given to the CCC.

"This freed up money to perform fire fuel reduction work," said Chad Harris, a CCC crew leader and supervisor of the Big Basin Redwoods State Park tent camp located a few miles away that is providing the CCC manpower.

The art of keeping fires local

Established in 1976 by Brown during his first term in office, the CCC is a state agency that hires young Californians between the ages of 18 and 25 to do natural resource work on public lands, such as plant trees, construct trails, install fences, and respond to natural disasters like fires and floods.

The emergency drought funding, which the CCC will have access to through June 2016, has allowed the state agency to create a six-month, 36-member residential tent camp crew dedicated to fire fuel debris reduction. Big Basin is the tent camp's third location. Previously, the camp was set up at Silverwood Lake in San Bernardino County and then Lake Camanche in Calaveras County. The long-term housing situation not only allows CCC members to live near the area they're tasked with working on, but also gives partner agencies ample time to use the crews for big projects.

"It helps to jump-start what we can do," said Martha Diepenbrock, director of external affairs for the CCC. "For our partners, these are funded resources that can be applied to high-priority projects."

Drought funding has also paid for an additional five crews across the state that are dedicated to water conservation projects on both public and private lands. Corps are trained to do things like turf removal, replace outdoor irrigation systems, and install items like low-flow toilets and water fixtures.

The idea behind the fire hazard reduction camps is to prevent future fires from raging out of control.

"We can reduce the fire load to keep fires local if they do break out or prevent them from taking an entire hillside," Harris said. "We can help keep the land accessible for fire vehicles, as well."

Reducing the fire load is especially important in California, where record drought has created tinderbox conditions in the state's public and private lands alike. Across the state, forest officials recently reported that at least 12 million drought-weakened trees have died, mostly in the southern and central parts of the state, but tree death seems to be spreading north as the drought lingers.

Climate change poses increasing challenges to forests in the Golden State, including a forecast increase in the number of fires, insects and disease. Furthermore, a study out last week finds wildfires are occurring more often at higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada, being driven by both climate change and some forest management practices. According to Cal Fire, some of the best adaptation strategies include forest thinning and fuels reduction in order to make forests more resistant to wildfires and to reestablish ecosystem resilience to natural cycles of fire and other events.

Park Ranger Emily Bertram, who is stationed at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, said the drought has taken a toll on the state's oldest state park, which contains 10,800 acres of old-growth forest and is home to the largest contiguous population of ancient coastal redwoods south of San Francisco.

'We're a tinderbox'

"We've seen record numbers of trees falling down, unassociated with any weather event," Bertram said. "We think it's from generalized stress because of the drought. We're a tinderbox."

Big Basin hasn't been touched by wildfire, but in 2008, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) declared a state of emergency for Santa Cruz County when the Summit fire burned 4,270 acres, resulting in the evacuation of 1,400 homes and costing taxpayers more than $16 million. In May 2014, a wildfire scorched a building and 5 acres near Mount Madonna before two helicopters were able to put it out.

But as conditions continue to deteriorate because of the record drought, fire is a persistent fear in Santa Cruz and beyond. As of yesterday, nine wildfires were blazing in California, according to Cal Fire, including the 6,900-acre Wragg fire, which broke out near Lake Berryessa in Napa and Solano counties and has destroyed one structure and is threatening 150 more. On Saturday, the Lowell fire broke out in Nevada County and has burned 1,700 acres and is 20 percent contained. According to the National Interagency Fire Center's summer wildfire potential outlook issued July 1, in Northern California, long-term drought conditions are "likely to lead to a condition where above normal fire activity is possible, even though the forecasted weather conditions indicate a continued somewhat frequent moisture input."

"Throughout the park, vegetation grows and it's a constant struggle to have enough resources," said Chris Spohrer, Santa Cruz District services manager for the California Department of Parks and Recreation. "This is a focused group of skilled labor that can provide fire safety where really it's been needed for the last 10 years."

For Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency John Laird, the use of CCC to do fire load reduction work with the help and blessing of both the Department of Parks and Recreation as well as Cal Fire is an example of state agency collaboration at its finest.

"I know I'm supposed to love all my children equally," he said, laughing, "but I'm glad to see them getting along."

For the corps members, who will be stationed at the tent camp in Big Basin until mid-October, working 10-hour days clearing parts of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park -- but also helping the parks department with a dozen other projects -- it's a way to receive job training, as well as make some money.

Brian Hougland, a 28-year-old CCC member, seemed cheerful, despite being covered in a layer of sweat and dirt. Standing in the midday sun, Hougland said the crew uses "anything to get the job done," including but not limited to axes, chain saws, rakes and pitchforks. Currently, the CCC crew is clearing 10 acres of forestland to about knee height so that it can be burned in a controlled manner.

A California resident since 2000, Hougland said he feels like the CCC's work was crucially important in trying to temper the effects of the wildfire season California is certain to experience. And the drought, he said, isn't helping.

"The drought turns everything into kindling -- even the trees that look healthy and green on the outside, they're dry inside," he said. "I like to say we're being the bodyguards for the forest."

Article Written By Brittany Patterson