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

Montana Conservation Corps Restores CCC Built Fish Hatchery

Local stone mason Jimmy Plovanik assists crew members with stone wall repair Tuesday. The seven-person MCC crew made much progress on the park at Big Springs Trout Hatchery this week.

This article was originally published by the Lewistown News-Argus.

Fish hatchery park gets make-over


The Montana Conservation Corps crew working on the fish hatchery make-over includes (from left) Timothy Gillispie, Helena; Eric Barr, MCC co-leader, Florida; Taggert Street, Helena; Sharanne Dement, Great Falls; Logan Callerg, Great Falls; Albert Leavell, MCC leader, Maryland; and Amanda Knorr, Helena.
Special to the News-Argus
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 11:01 AM MDT
Editor’s Note: This week, Montana Conservation Corps volunteers came to Lewistown to assist community members with the park at Big Springs Trout Hatchery. The volunteers did not just clean up the area; they also did some stonework and landscape work.

Having MCC do this work is fitting, Gies said, as it was the Civilian Conservation Corps that constructed the park in the first place.

Most of the park facilities at the Big Springs Trout Hatchery southeast of Lewistown were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in about 1936, almost eighty years ago.

The  CCC was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families, ages 18–25.  Robert Fechner was the head of the agency. The program was a major part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments.

Now, almost eight decades later, the Montana Conservation Corps is doing repair and renovation work at the fish hatchery park. The Montana Conservation Corps grew out of stories of men joining and serving in the Civilian Conservation Corps, stories that can be heard at coffee counters across Montana in places like the Empire Café. Tales of the accomplishments of the CCC to improve the landscape and the spirits of the young people who joined are numerous, and verging on mythical, in the best tradition of Montana.

This week, MCC workers are busy repairing the facilities built by the CCC. These MCC workers include five Montana high school students and two supervisors in their twenties. The supervisors work right along with the kids.

In two days the crew has accomplished much of the repair of rock work in the big pool, building trails and pulling weeds. They have two more days of work left. Local master stone mason Jimmy Plovanic has been right along side of this crew, showing them how to do the repair and renovation work on the stone walls. These walls are simply stacked stone, but of course, stacked in an aesthetic and lasting way. Jimmy has made a great contribution in sharing his expertise.

The project leader on the park renovation is Eric VanderBeek. Eric has been a strong leader, including working to obtain $14,000 in grant money for the project. Locals Brad McCardle, Lewistown trails manager, Clay Dunlap, retired educator, and Clint Loomis, retired educator and artist, have also worked hard on this project. All have spent countless hours on planning and implementing the project. Much credit on this project goes to Paul Pavlak a Lewistown resident who started the ball rolling on this park renovation.

Karl Gies is a member of the Big Spring Creek Watershed Association.


Boiler Plate: 
This week, Montana Conservation Corps volunteers came to Lewistown to assist community members with the park at Big Springs Trout Hatchery. The volunteers did not just clean up the area; they also did some stonework and landscape work.

CCC Corpsmember writes about National Geographic BioBlitz at Golden Gate Parks

CCC members with John Griffith and Outdoor Afro's Rue Mapp at Golden Gate National Parks

The California Conservation Corps Teams up with National Geographic and The Golden Gate Parks Conservancy for The Bioblitz Event!


By Kevin Casbeer
Corpsmember - California Conservation Corps, Ukiah

On March 28th and 29th 2014, I was one of the corps members from the Ukiah and Napa Centers who had the amazing opportunity to be a part of this year’s National Geographic BioBlitz at Golden Gate Parks! Being able to see kids involved with hands-on science projects and collecting biological data was truly inspiring for a young adult like me. After doing research on what exactly what “nature deficit disorder” was, I felt obligated to help out in whatever way I can to reconnect kids with nature. The Bioblitz Event was the perfect opportunity! In an age where our kids are attached to technology, it was refreshing to see the creative minds of park rangers, school teachers, musicians, and a crew supervisor from the California Conservation Corps hard at work to engage kids outdoors. It would be a dream of mine to follow in these footsteps and inspire a movement of sustainability and appreciation for nature in my community.

The National Geographic’s BioBlitz is a 24-hour event in which teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, and other organisms as possible. National Geographic is helping conduct a BioBlitz in a different national park each year during the decade leading up to the U.S. National Park Service Centennial in 2016. The event is accompanied by a Biodiversity Festival where the public watched stage performances and visited interactive and environmentally themed booths. This is where the CCC came in. We went onstage at the festival to talk to kids about our experiences as corps members and dance. Yes, dance… more on that soon.  

Since joining the California Conservation Corps (CCC) in January of 2013, the most rewarding volunteer trips I have been on were the ones where kids were involved. It is important to make sure that at the vital time of a child’s development, kids think of the outdoors as a place they belong. A dream of mine would be able to teach kids in a hybrid style, using both nature and technology as was done at the Bioblitz Event. Kids were teamed up with biologists and used a phone application called iNaturalist to catalogue the plant and animal species they discovered. The app iNat is easy to understand, and with it, anybody with a smart-phone or tablet can contribute to science while out in nature.

But not every child is blessed to have a smart phone and a backyard. So how do you engage kids who have little access to green spaces and expensive technologies to care about nature? Simple, you can start by advocating for green spaces in your city, access to those spaces, and for experiences that make nature both educational and entertaining. Not to mention, getting the word out that kids can join the CCC when they turn 18. Sounds easy, but I experienced firsthand the hard work and dedication it takes to make this happen.


Watch CCC members do the Bioblitz dance

In addition to speaking to the kids at the Bioblitz Event about our CCC experiences, we also did the Bioblitz Dance.  John Griffith, CCC crew supervisor, known dancer, and author of the kids’ book Totem Magic: Going MAD, had the spectacular idea to create a dance that had one rule. That rule was that the dance had to be done outdoors. So he created what became the official BioBlitz Dance. It’s still spreading like wildfire on the internet and was very popular at the event itself! In fact, the CCC’s Bioblitz Dance was the grand finale of the event’s opening ceremony. Repeated onstage Bioblitz Dance performances were accompanied by dozens of middle-grade students, a National Park Ranger, Beth Pratt National Wildlife Federation’s California Director, and NWF’s mascot--a giant raccoon known as Ranger Rick. I will never forget the kids’ reactions to our dance. And I was amazed by how many already knew how to do it by watching our YouTube video, and that they also knew the one rule to the Bioblitz Dance: it must be done outdoors. It is these types of tiny seeds (experiences) being planted in childhoods that will spark the growth of stewardship for nature. Less than a month after we made the Bioblitz Dance video, we’ve had nine Bioblitz Dance video responses from outdoors groups all over the nation--and even one from Romania.

Events like the National Geographic’s BioBlitz connect kids (and corps members) to nature in a relevant way: they get to be citizen scientists. We all should strive to apart of this movement to reconnect kids to nature. (I think that is what the CCC does for young adults.) If we can edu-tain kids about nature, whether it be by rapping, dancing, using iNat to help scientists, or just engaging kids to play outdoors (and become corps members), then maybe we can ensure that there will be future stewards to care for the wild long after our generation has passed.

Special thanks to Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro and Michelle O’Herron of the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy for getting the CCC involved in the Bioblitz Event. –Kevin Casbeer

 Here is a quote I love from Richard Louv who coined the phrase Nature deficit Disorder: “Developers and environmentalists, corporate CEOs and college professors, rock stars and ranchers may agree on little else, but they agree on this: no one among us wants to be a member of the last generation to pass on to our children the joy of playing outside in nature.” 

[Video] Sally Jewell Talks about 21st Century Conservation Service Corps in Live Chat

Last week as part of of her livechat in conjunction with National Public Lands Day, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell spent several minutes responding to a question about the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. She noted how members of the The Corps Network and SCA would play a role, but also talked about how given modern constraints and circumstances, the program would not have the same scope as the original CCC in terms of numbers.

Later on (at the 27:25 minute mark), Secretary Jewell also talked about making the workforce of Interior agencies more diverse, and how youth hires would eventually play a big role in this change once budgets allowed for more growth in staff at national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. 

You can watch the video by clicking on the photo above or by clicking here.

Boiler Plate: 
Last week as part of of her livechat in conjunction with National Public Lands Day, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell spent several minutes responding to a question about the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.

Video: Chapter 113 - short film documents Maryland CCC Alumni

At our 2013 National Conference last month we were lucky to be joined by members of CCC Legacy Chapter 113 for our plenary session on the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. We were also lucky to be joined by filmmakers Lance and Brandon Kramer, founders of the DC-based Meridian Hill Pictures production company, who shared their short documentary about the efforts of the Chapter 113 boys to establish a Maryland CCC memorial.

Click here to watch the film and celebrate the 80th anniversary of the CCC!
(Scroll down for the film)

California Conservation Corps and Marin Conservation Corps Honor Civilian Conservation Corps


Three "CCC boys" were honored last Saturday as part of a 75th anniversary celebration for the Civilian Conservation Corps (original CCC), held at Mt. Tamalpais State Park in Marin County. Members of the California Conservation Corps and the Marin Conservation Corps (now Conservation Corps North Bay) joined together to help clean up the magnificent rock amphitheater built by the original CCC in the 1930s and is still in use today. Representatives from California State Parks presented a proclamation from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the California Conservation Corps' (CCC) Jimmy Camp read a letter from CCC Director David Muraki.

To learn more about the event, visit the Marin Independent Journal website.

Director David Muraki also published an op-ed about the original CCC in numerous California newspapers. To read David's op-ed, visit the Santa Monica Mirror website.