Corpsmember Success Story: Justin Quintana-Scott - Paying it Forward

From the Colorado Youth Corps Association

When Justin Quintana-Scott’s home in Beulah, Colo. was destroyed in a fire in January 2012, he lost not only his house, but his two dogs as well. The mountain community of Beulah came forward in support by holding a fundraiser and erecting a memorial – gestures Justin will never forget. He is repaying his community’s kindness in part through his involvement with Mile High Youth Corps-Pueblo.

“I saw how my community stepped up and pulled together to help us out. It inspired me to help more,” says Justin, who joined Mile High Youth Corps in June.

A member of the Apache and Navajo Indian tribes, Justin is a sophomore at Colorado State University in Pueblo. He is studying wildlife biology (he made the Dean’s List this year) and has dreams of working for the Division of Parks and Wildlife.

He is getting valuable work experience through youth corps, building on an innate interest in the outdoors. “I’ve always been around wildlife – including bears, deer and mountain lions. I’d like to work closely with wildlife, and make it so that the next generation will have access to that too,” he says.

Justin’s crew is braving the scorching Colorado temperatures clearing corridors along the Arkansas River Trail and the Fountain Creek River Trail. By ridding the area of Russian olive trees – an invasive species and daily consumer of more than 30 gallons of river water – Mile High Youth Corps is “making the Pueblo nature scene more friendly to the public and pleasing to the eye.”

Justin is working toward an AmeriCorps scholarship to help pay for college. To achieve his goal, he needs to complete 300 hours of work with the youth corps. But to Justin, this is more than just work. “We’re always smiling, not because it’s a job, but because everyone on my team wants to be there.”

Justin and his family are rebuilding their life with a new house in Pueblo, and he is setting an example for youth with a positive outlook. “I like that in youth corps, we’re helping out the community and setting a positive role model for the youth of Pueblo. It’s altogether fun and enjoyable, and makes me feel good to be a positive influence.”

Military Vets Help Restore Fish Habitat (a project of the California Conservation Corps)

Veterans will get a chance to train and work on habitat restoration and fisheries monitoring through a project funded by NOAA and administered in partnership with the California Conservation Corps and California’s Department of Fish and Game. During the yearlong program of paid training and hands-on experience, veterans will spend part of the time on habitat restoration and will also receive training and experience in firefighting and reducing fire hazards. “This is a win-win for everyone,” said Eric Schwaab, NOAA’s assistant administrator for fisheries. “Military veterans have tremendous skills to offer, and by helping to restore fish habitats they will be supporting the important role of commercial and recreational fishing in the economy. Restoration jobs pay dividends twice, first because they put people to work immediately, and then because restoration benefits our fisheries, tourism, and coastal communities for years to come.” Veterans will start the program by taking courses in how to collect data and evaluate the effectiveness of coastal and marine habitat restoration. By mid- to late October, they will begin monitoring several river restoration sites in Humboldt, Del Norte, and Mendocino counties that were designed to increase spawning and rearing habitat for populations of endangered coho salmon in accordance with the recovery plan developed under the Endangered Species Act. The restored habitat should also help boost populations of Chinook and steelhead trout as well as improve environmental quality generally.  See the full press release here.

Veterans interested in joining the fisheries crew should contact the California Conservation Corps’ Tina Ratcliff at 916-341-3123 or tina.ratcliff[at]

SEEDS Youth Conservation Corps Helps Rescue Turtles [VIDEO]

Last Saturday Grand Traverse County's Brown Bridge Dam suffered a breach, and the lake behind the dam was effectively let loose. In addition to flooding many homes, the wildlife living in the lake lost their homes.

SEEDS Youth Conservation Corps has been working with several partners to help rescue and relocate turtles that were overwintering in the lake

See a local news report about the turtle rescue here: 9&10 News reports...

2008 Project of the Year: Redondo Bluffs Restoration Project


Winner: Los Angeles Conservation Corps 

In a collaborative effort between the LA Conservation Corps, local residents, the Urban Wildlands Group (local nonprofit), and state and local governments, the Beach Bluffs Restoration Project Team was formed to identify and restore locations within the South Bay that historically supported populations of the El Segundo Blue Butterfly, an endangered species known only to exist in 3 isolated reserves.

LACC’s SEA Lab is located in Redondo Beach on the Santa Monica Bay.  The adjacent coastal bluffs are the historic home of the El Segundo Blue Butterfly.  However, due to habitat loss, the butterfly population rapidly declined and the insect was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1976. In 2005, the Corps received funding from the California Coastal Conservancy to restore a small 3 acre site. For 2 years, more than 100 Corpsmembers removed invasive ice plant, constructed a native plant nursery, planted native vegetation, installed irrigation, fencing, and interpretive signage, conducted stakeholder surveys, and maintained the newly planted native landscape.

Although the Bluffs Restoration Project team hoped that one day the El Segundo Blues would return to the Redondo Bluffs, the scientific community believed due to habitat fragmentation and population isolation re-colonization of the butterflies could occur only via human assistance.  In May 2007, as crews were wrapping up the project by adding vegetation and removing weeds, staff member Monica Acosta noticed a butterfly that looked suspiciously like the El Segundo Blue.  She sent a few photos to USC experts for identification.  A team of scientists surveyed the site and confirmed the presence of over 200 butterflies. 

Sure enough, via the hard work of LACC Corpsmembers, the El Segundo Blue returned, on their own, to the Redondo Bluffs.  The rapid return to the site so surprised the experts that it is now leading them to a new understanding of the species.  Young folks from some of the neediest neighborhoods in LA made a difference, a huge difference, and proved that sometimes the impossible is just improbable.

2012 Project of the Year: Recycling Black Locusts for a Win-Win


Winner: SEEDS Youth Conservation Corps

SEEDS staffers hold a harder line than most when it comes to purchasing policies because of their organization’s mission to bring a holistic perspective to design challenges and help communities make durable decisions about their own future. For the boardwalks, platforms, and other construction projects the Corps was getting, no one wanted to use toxic, chemically treated lumber.

In Michigan lumber for projects often comes from the West Coast, draining valuable financial resources from the state economy and requiring heavy product to be shipped across vast distances, which is a complete loser in terms of emissions and embodied energy. SEEDS generally desires to build things out of resources that are readily available.

A perfect storm of opportunity was created when SEEDS learned of the possibility of using black locust lumber. Simultaneously they learned that the National Park Service was girdling large stands of it, as it is considered by them an invasive species in Michigan. Black Locust posts have been known to last as long as 100 years in the ground. This wood is very heavy, providing strength and durability. This combined with its rot resistance makes it the ideal choice for fencing, boardwalks, hops yards, and landscaping.

SEEDS Youth Corps creates custom lengths, milled posts, fencing, and decking materials as well as fire wood all for its own use and for sale. The use of black locust has improved the Corps in a number of ways including 1) benefits associated with using higher quality lumber, 2) benefits with sourcing materials locally and using nontoxic material, 3) having direct control over the materials they use, 4) students learning how to both create and fill an order for lumber and learning about the full life cycle of these materials from tree to boardwalk and back into tree, and 5) significantly increasing the number of hours SEEDS can afford to hire its Corpsmembers.

With its new programmatic investment in black locust products, the Corps has already added the equivalent of 2.5 full time green collar jobs for youth in a community that faces far higher rates of unemployment than even their parents do in these economically depressed times and regions of long standing rural poverty. These hours are split among many employees and this work, in and of itself, helps these students stay on track at school, improve self esteem, and generate income for their families. SEEDS expects this number to only grow for the foreseeable future.

By using black locust rough cut lumber in place of treated decking, SEEDS reduced the greenhouse gas impacts of traditional decking lumber production by between 93% and 97%. During the first three quarters of 2011, by displacing traditional treated lumber with locust we reduced 18 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e). This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 3.5 cars or 1.6 homes. Quantifying the impact that the toxic chemicals in treated lumber have on ecosystems – especially wetlands where it is most often used – is not currently accessible to SEEDS, but they are seeking scientists who can effectively illustrate this impact.

Another positive aspect to the program was that Youth Corps staff were trained to take trees down in the park, mill them on-site, organize and transport the lumber, and create beautiful, long lasting, locally sourced, nontoxic carpentry projects for the entire community to use. Corpsmembers have learned to recognize black locust not only as an invasive species but also as resource. They have procured products with their own hands rather than through purchasing and have learned that these projects will last a lifetime. As a result of this project they have also received the following trainings: invasive species identification, herbicide application certification, botanical Illustration and identification, plant identification in the Anishinaabemowin language, first aid and CPR certification, and basic construction. Older Corpsmembers have also received MIOSHA chainsaw certification, wildfire chainsaw certification, and four-season proper tree harvesting techniques.

Creating jobs to create the raw materials needed for other jobs added over $50,000 of community support in the first three quarters of 2011. Additionally, SEEDS has generated another $35,000 by selling locust products to organic farmers – a significant market that they had not previously been involved in. In total the project has provided an additional 5200 hours of paid employment to Corpsmembers.

This is a classic example of looking with an innovative eye toward someone else’s waste product as a resource for someone else. The National Park saw these trees as invasive and a waste – at best firewood. SEEDs saw these trees as economic generators for their community.

2012 Project of the Year: Desert Tortoise Monitoring


Winner: Nevada Conservation Corps / Great Basin Institute

In response to the federal listing of desert tortoises (Mojave population) as a threatened species, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) instituted a Desert Tortoise Range-Wide Monitoring Program to track the population density of tortoises throughout their range.

In 2011, the Great Basin Institute (GBI) coordinated with the FWS to implement line distance sampling (LDS) to monitor desert tortoise populations in the eastern Mojave Desert of southern Nevada, northwest Arizona and southwest Utah. By collaborating with GBI and the Nevada Conservation Corps (NCC), the USFWS is implementing their study at a cost savings of approximately three times less than utilizing private consulting firms and simultaneously training the next generation of field biologists.

The desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is federally listed as a threatened species north and west of the Colorado River under the Endangered Species Act. The species was listed as threatened due to the loss of habitat in CA and NV from the increase in development of land to meet the needs of growing populations; when listed, Las Vegas was the fastest growing city in the US with 4-5 thousand new residents every month. The desert tortoise is considered a “key stone” species of the desert southwest. Population density data is used to inform land managers of the current state of the desert environment.

The focus of the desert tortoise LDS monitoring program is to collect data, over 25 years, which will allow researchers to estimate population density of these animals in the eastern portion of their range. Ultimately the data collected will be used by the USFWS to inform future management of the desert tortoise, including the delisting of the species, continual listing as threatened, or escalation to an endangered species. LDS monitoring occurs during April and May to coincide with the peak in the activity season of tortoises.

The Great Basin Institute, in collaboration with the FWS, provided desert tortoise handling and field training, field data collection, logistical support, quality assurance and control data checks, and GIS mapping for the LDS program. Field training required Corpsmembers to participate in a rigorous 4 week program during which they were required to demonstrate proficiency in backcountry navigation and wilderness field skills, including 4WD vehicle operation, the use of GPS units, the ability to read topographic maps, and PDA technology. Corpsmembers were also trained in wilderness first aid as well as emergency procedures and protocols. In addition, members were field tested on their ability to follow monitoring protocols thoroughly and precisely.

Twenty three LDS field survey technicians were hired to collect data on 6km and 12km transects and to monitor 33 radiotelemetered tortoises. This season, 11 LDS field technician teams collected data on a total of 380 transects (~4000km walked), detecting a total of 238 tortoises. Four telemetry technicians monitored 33 radio-telemetered tortoises for a combined total of 2,184 observations. As mentioned previously, the data collected in the 2011 field season will be compiled with additional data spanning the 25 year research period and will ultimately inform USFWS next steps in the management of the desert tortoise.

The Nevada Conservation Corps (NCC) has historically focused on hands-on conservation efforts, including recreational trail construction/maintenance, hazardous fuels reduction, and habitat restoration. The desert tortoise LDS project is a different style of project for the Corps, because the service the Corps is providing shifts away from the traditional land management manual labor efforts and engages Corpsmembers in a long term US Fish and Wildlife conservation project to protect a threatened species through data collection and research efforts.

In addition, unlike the majority of NCC projects, the US Fish and Wildlife service provides detailed protocols and extensive training to ensure Corpsmembers have the skill set to collect the necessary data and have met the requirements to be federally permitted to handle a threatened species. Because the desert tortoise is a protected species, all development in southern Nevada and the desert southwest is impacted by the presence of the species. Over the past several years, renewable energy development has greatly increased in the desert southwest. With the increasing focus on renewable energy, the demand for qualified desert tortoise monitors has also increased. Corpsmembers had the opportunity to gain experience with and become permitted (both state and federal) to handle desert tortoises, and to gain perspectives in issues of public land management. This project has provided well trained individuals to work in the field and provide compliance with permits for development as the renewable energy industry grows in southern Nevada and throughout the west. Ten Corpsmembers from the 2011 LDS field monitoring team are currently employed in the renewable energy industry, working for private environmental consulting firms. Through their experiences with the LDS project, Corpsmembers who successfully complete the program come away with valuable technical skills that will make them very marketable when seeking additional employment opportunities.

Due to the level of training and overall experience provided by the LDS project, individuals are contacting GBI to inquire about becoming a part of the NCC desert tortoise team, increasing the quality of applicants we receive each year. In addition, through the LDS project, the NCC has continued to strengthen our partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as diversify its service offerings for other land managers.

2012 Project of the Year: Military Posts to Park Program


Winner: Mile High Youth Corps

The “Post to Parks Program” was a unique collaboration between a local youth conservation corps (Mile High Youth Corps – Colorado Springs), a local military installation (Fort Lewis Army Base) and a National Park (Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument). Conducted during the Summer of Service Program 2011, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, it served a relatively small number of young people (26) with the potential to serve hundreds more. “Post to Parks” engages Corpsmembers and potential future Corpsmembers for their own benefit and that of our National Parks.

One crew of Mile High Youth Corps’ Corpsmembers was paired with and became mentors for seventeen youth from Fort Carson on a four day educational adventure. For several days preceding their time together the Corpsmembers planned educational sessions, games and experiential activities for their mentees. When the Fort Carson teenagers arrived the ice was quickly broken through a series of games and sharing activities. Corpsmembers then involved the younger youth in interpretive programs, fossil labs, and interpretive hikes.

The youth from Ft. Carson worked each day with MHYC corps members on trail maintenance, learned tool safety, erosion control, and noxious weed identification. The Corpsmembers had the opportunity to teach and tell these youth about Leave No Trace Camping, hiking safety, what Corps do and why. They also formed a panel with staff of the Monument to talk about their careers in the outdoors. Both Corps and military youth were also able to interact with park staff and learned about volunteer and career opportunities in the National Park System.

This program was developed by staff at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and planned collaboratively with the Mile High Youth Corps. It was funded by two grants from the National Parks Foundation. The goal of the project is to get military youth connected to our parks, to provide leadership opportunities for Corpsmembers and to recruit new members for the Corps.

The youth from military families received transportation, lunches, and a small stipend for participating in the program. The Corpsmembers camped at the park, prepared their own meals, and received their weekly stipends as usual. Prior to the project Corpsmembers were not surprised to learn they would be swinging shovels and tamping trail but they never imagined that they would also be called upon to develop a curriculum and teach their trail and camping skills while also showing compassion and understanding to children of military families whose parents could be deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Both Corpsmembers and the youth from the military base benefited tremendously from this project.

2005 Corpsmember of the Year: Diony Gamoso

***Update! Click here to find out what Diony has been up to since accepting his award.***

Diony Gamoso started at Marin Conservation Corps (now Conservation Corps North Bay) as a Crew Leader on the Natural Resources Crew. He came to MCC with a variety of technical skills and was looking for opportunities to expand his abilities to include education skills.  He immediately demonstrated a thirst for learning, interest in the projects, compassion for the corpsmembers, and a genuine interest in contributing to MCC.  As the supervisor of a Project Regeneration Crew, Diony led high school aged students in conservation projects.  Recently, he was promoted to the position of Education Department Assistant where he has supported the Education Program by planning and facilitating place-based field education lessons and has been helping his fellow corpsmembers make progress towards earning their high school diplomas.  Diony has also taken on a variety of new tasks and projects which have been very beneficial to MCC. 

-- “The Marin Conservation Corps has given me so much opportunity to grow personally and professionally.  I have been given a chance right here and now, to explore what I thought were only far-off, future, career dreams.”

(written in 2005)

2006 Corpsmember of the Year: Andrew Zimmer

In the last year, Andrew Zimmer has impressed the Forest Service with the quality and amount of work produced by his crew, fallen in love with Logan Canyon, Utah and developed an unexpected yet clear picture of where his life is heading.

An AmeriCorps crew leader for the Utah Conservation Corps, Andrew showed his crew that anyting is possible. Their assignment was to construct two miles of fencing along a very steep and inaccessible area. This would allow the Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, a rare and declining species, to be protected from the diseases that grazing cattle passed on when drinking from the creek. This project was essential to the survival of the trout population. Andrew, a leader who brings out the best in others around him, took special interest in each crew member to make sure their experience was rewarding and insightful.

Toward the end his term, Andrew was in a bike accident that resulted in paralysis from the chest down. Andrew said that within an hour of his accident, he knew he wanted to work in accessible outdoor recreation. His philosophy about stewardship of our natural resources is that you cannot get sustainable results without the awareness and enthusiasm of people. Andrew has brought this idea and passion to Utah and the UCC. He plans on completing his AmeriCorps term after rehabilitation and continuting to work in the place he loves. 

2006 Corpsmember of the Year: Afton McKusick

***Update! Click here to read about what Afton has been up to since she won her award.***

(Written in 2006)

A remarkable and resilient Corpsmember, Afton McKusick has been a fixture of enthusiasm and dedication in the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC). Encouraging several of her friends to join the corps with her, Afton began her successful role as corps recruiter during her junior year of high school. Her love for preserving the northern Arizona landscape continues to bring new members to CREC every season.

Afton's first summer project with CREC consisted of removing the invasive species, cliff rose, off the sides of Walnut Creek. She loved the hard work and since then has worked on trail maintenance and chainsaw crews. Despite already receiving her allotted two AmeriCorps Education Awards she has insisted on spending her summers protecting the natrual environment of northern Arizona.

Afton says the program has helped her realize many life lessons. "Every person we come into contact with will in some way or another have an impact on us," says McKusick, "but we also have an impact on them."

As much as the program has benefited from Afton, she stated that CREC has been equally helpful in her character development. "Without this program, I would not be the person I am today, " Afton said. Explaining her reasons for returning to the prorgram, Afton said, "I came back because...this is a place where I can make a difference."