2018 Project of the Year: Southwest Conservation Corps and Montana Conservation Corps - Wyoming Women's Fire Corps

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more

The Wyoming Women’s Fire Corps (WWFC) is a pilot program that ran August through early November of 2017. Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC), Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) joined together in this collaborative effort. 

SCC and MCC each contributed a crew of six female Corpsmembers and two female Crew Leaders to work with the BLM in Wyoming. The goal was to give these 16 women the confidence, technical skills, and leadership abilities to pursue careers in wildland firefighting. The women completed training and were certified in S130/190 wildland fire fighting and S212 saw operation. The scope of work for the program included fire mitigation and prescribed burns, as well as various chainsaw projects in locations throughout Wyoming. Additionally, both WWFC crews had the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience while dispatched on a 14-day assignment to support the massive firefighting efforts in California.

The WWFC is a perfect example of innovation in the Corps Movement. It is a unique opportunity to develop collaborative solutions to several needs. First, this program helps address the huge gender disparity in wildland firefighting. Only 11 percent of permanent wildland firefighting jobs in the U.S. Forest Service are held by women. BLM faces similar statistics.

Second, the WWFC plays a role in addressing resource management concerns. Wyoming has large tracts of land that are potential habitat for the endangered sage grouse, but these areas need to be restored through the removal of encroaching conifers. An effort of this kind requires chainsaw work with a hand crew; perfect saw and physical training for a future wildland firefighter.

The WWFC is potentially the first all-women’s fire crew within the Conservation Corps movement. Additionally, this was the first time either SCC or MCC operated an all-female crew with a set purpose. The uniqueness of this program helped bring in far more applicants than anticipated; within just a two-week window, both Corps received three applicants for every slot.

The first WWFC cohort just closed their season. They report having had an incredible, life-changing experience. Each Corpsmember was an AmeriCorps member, earning a living allowance and finishing with a Segal Education Award. With only one exception, all SCC and MCC members are interested in applying for fire jobs next season; a testament to the empowering nature of this program.

At this point, it’s too early for SCC and MCC to report on how many WWFC participants became employed in wildland firefighting. However, they have already seen other positive effects of the program; SCC has been contacted by BLM and other organizations that are interested in hiring the Corpsmembers and learning more about replicating the initiative in other parts of the country. BLM and both Corps have deemed the WWFC highly successful and are working to repeat the program in 2019.

In the months to come, the two Corps will team-up to develop solutions for challenges discovered in the first year of operation. One of the key factors in the success of this pilot was the critical collaborative effort from staff at SCC, MCC, and the BLM. Several large conference calls took place to establish expectations, logistics and needs of all parties involved.

Both SCC and MCC have been strengthened in many ways because of the WWFC. Each Corps has developed relationships with communities in Wyoming and with the BLM of Wyoming. Additionally, their crews have increased their capacity to respond to wildland fires, complete prescribed burns, and tackle a backlog of habitat improvement projects. Most importantly, however, both Corps have increased diversity and are excited to play a role in opening-up an opportunity for women who are interested in fire, yet unsure how to get a start in such a male-dominated field. This project has developed into a stepping stone for this specific demographic.

As one Corpsmember said of the WWFC: “For women who are thinking ‘maybe I can’t do this,’ you totally can. You just have to have the determination and the willingness to put in a lot of hard work and sweat.” 

Southwest Conservation Corps Receives Regional Forester's Honor Award

(L-R) USFS Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Dan Jiron presents the Honor Award to Mesa Verde National Park Superintendent Cliff Spencer, SCC Executive Director Ron Hassel, MSI Executive Director Marcie Bidwell, SJNF Administrative Officer Ron Duvall, SJNF Supervisor Kara Chadwick. R2 Deputy Regional Foresters Maribeth Gustafson and Brian Ferebee also helped celebrate.

This story was originally published in the San Juan National Forest Newsletter.

DURANGO - The San Juan NF shared a USFS Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Honor Award with partners this spring for launching the Four Corners Federal Lands Internship Program. Partners included the National Park Service, Fort Lewis College (FLC), Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) and Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC).

The program offers college students experience in resource-management careers. Agency mentors oversee the professional development of interns during 10-week summer internships.

“We thank our partners for bringing this opportunity to the agencies and the students,” says Ron Duvall, San Juan NF Administrative Officer. “We couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support.”

Last year’s interns are now exploring careers in natural resources through additional classes, advanced degrees and seasonal jobs. New interns have already been selected for this summer.
Boiler Plate: 
The San Juan NF shared a USFS Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Honor Award with partners this spring for launching the Four Corners Federal Lands Internship Program. Partners included the National Park Service, Fort Lewis College (FLC), Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) and Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC).

Three Conservation Corps Teams Are Working to Remove Invasive Species Along the Dolores River

Article appeared on The Nature Conservancy website.


Tamarisk may think they’re going to take over the area surrounding the Dolores River. We advise them to think again. On the Dolores, three conservation corps are on the job. The Canyon Country Youth Corps, Western Colorado Conservation Corps and Southwest Conservation Corps are taking on one of the west’s most daunting restoration challenges – removing invasive species such as tamarisk along 175 miles of the river, which runs through southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah. 

It’s a job for those with strong wills and strong backs. Young people, ages 18-26, from diverse backgrounds, are hired by the Conservation Corps for eight to twelve week stints. They work long days in the elements, camp and cook together. 

Weighed down with 18 pound chainsaws and 20-pound daypacks, they may hike up to 2 miles to a work site every day. As soon as they arrive, chainsaws buzz for eight hours. 

As Conservation Corps member Jake Lee writes in his blog, the work is grueling yet meaningful. “I hear relatively few words and fewer laughs being exchanged on the hike back to the truck. We are spent. Covered from head to toe with dust, dirt, and wood chips, our sweat-soaked shirts are beginning to dry. We are hungry and thirsty. Yet we aren't dragging our sore feet or slouching with bowed heads under the weight we carry. We move with purpose.” 



While the restoration work improves the river, reduces wildfire risk and ensures recreation opportunities, Corps members are also carving a path for their future. 

“I applied for the chainsaw crew to learn a new skill set, to experience something vastly different from the last four years that I spent in college, and to challenge myself to whatever it took to get through the program,” says Hanna DeSalvo of Durango, Colorado. 

“We deal with changing plans constantly but still accomplish our work and personal goals in spite of this,” says Chris Panawa. “If you can finish a season, you finish it with new skills and abilities that can benefit all aspects of your life.” 

While earning job skills, corps members also earn Americorps Education Awards, which go toward student loans or furthering education. So far, $89,000 has been awarded to young people to improve their future.  



To fully understand the important work corps members are doing, you need to know about the impact tamarisk has on our environment. Since being introduced as an ornamental plant and windbreak in the mid-1800s, the pesky plant has spread to cover 1.6 million acres across the West, mostly along streams. The plant, also known as a salt cedar, threatens native cottonwood and willow trees because it grows in dense stands, can produce up to 500,000 seeds per plant, and increases salinity in soils. Tamarisk also sucks water, increases wildfire spread, chokes rivers and alters stream flows. 

Because of the growing tamarisk threat, the Conservation Corps, The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Land Management and others launched the Dolores River Restoration Partnership in 2009. So far, the effort has created 175 jobs for young adults and restored 821 acres.



“Strong partnerships are the key to conservation successes,” says Mike Wight, Conservation Corps River Restoration Director. “We know that by working together we can protect our lands and waters for generations to come.” 

“Mike is fostering and inspiring a new generation of conservationists who are committed to solving our most pressing challenges,” adds Peter Mueller, the Conservancy’s southwest Colorado program director. 

The Nature Conservancy has been committed to developing solutions for Colorado’s most important lands and waters for nearly 40 years. Our focus on the Dolores is to restore the river to good health while meeting the needs of people. 

As the river improves, lives are changing, “I have seen my fellow crew members grow physically stronger, fitter, healthier, more agile and mentally tougher – more confident, more determined, more resilient, more adaptable, more eager to overcome challenges without hesitation,” adds Lee. 

A program designed to eradicate invasive plants is also empowering young people to become future conservationists. 

Southwest Conservation Corps Announcing Big Changes this Earth Day

From Southwest Conservation Corps President & CEO Harry Bruell

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Partners,

In celebration of Earth Day we are excited to make an official announcement about our organizational re-structure to better align the organization with its unprecedented growth over the past 15 years.

The new name of our overall non-profit agency is now Conservation Legacy, a national organization that supports local and regional conservation service programs from seven offices across America.  Southwest Conservation Corps remains the name for the Conservation Legacy program that operates conservation corps in Colorado and New Mexico from offices in Durango and Salida, CO and Pueblo of Acoma, NM.  Other Conservation Legacy programs include the Arizona Conservation Corps (conservation corps in Arizona and Southern New Mexico; based in Flagstaff and Tucson, AZ), Environmental Stewards(individual placements in 22 states; based in Durango, CO), Southeast Youth Corps (conservation corps across the Southeast; based in Chattanooga, TN), andVISTA Teams (individual placements in the Appalachians and Colorado/New Mexico; based in Beckley, WV).  Please see the attached document for more information about the new structure.

The new structure allows Conservation Legacy to better support its programs with shared resources while allowing each program to develop its own identity and to customize programming to the needs and assets of the communities it serves.   We couldn’t imagine a more fitting day than Earth Day to announce the next phase of the organization’s development.  Our mission is to empower individuals to positively impact their lives, their communities and the environment, and we hope this next phase of our organizational development will allow us to support more young people, veterans and communities to make everyday Earth Day.

Conservation Legacy began in Durango, CO in 1998 as Southwest Youth Corps and changed its name to Southwest Conservation Corps in 2006 after merging with the Youth Corps of Southern Arizona.  In 2013 the organization engaged 709 young people, veterans and crew leaders who completed over 350,000 hours of service maintaining recreational trails and open space, protecting communities from wildfire, and preserving wildlife habitat.

The new structure will allow Conservation Legacy to support emerging corps programs and to help lead and promote national initiatives such as the growing movement to engage more young Americans in conservation service through the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC).  Conservation Legacy is a co-founder of the Public Lands Service Coalition and Conservation Legacy staff and Board members served on the 21CSC Federal Advisory Committee (Chair) and the Partnership for the 21CSC (co-Chair).       

Thank you for your support of Conservation Legacy, its programs and, most importantly, the young people, veterans and communities the organization serves.  Please refer to our new website for further information, please connect with us on our new Facebook page, and please feel free to contact me atharry@sccorps.org or 970-403-0143 with questions, suggestions or ideas.

Thanks for all that you do to support conservation service corps,

Harry Bruell

President & CEO


Boiler Plate: 
In celebration of Earth Day we are excited to make an official announcement about our organizational re-structure to better align the organization with its unprecedented growth over the past 15 years.

Photos, Press, Highlights, and Video from the White House Champions of Change Conservation Event

Earlier this week as we announced, both Anthony "Chako" Ciocco of Southwest Conservation Corps and Jon Brito of Kupu were honored by the White House for "engaging the next generation of conservation leaders."

Numerous staff members from The Corps Network were honored to attend the event on Tuesday, and watch Chako and Jon represent us and the Corps Movement so well!

Secretary Jewell Makes Big Show of Support at Event, and Through Secretarial Order

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell served as the keynote speaker for the event, and highlighted each of the fourteen honorees' accomplishments. She quoted each of the honorees, and even ended her remarks with a quote from a forthcoming blog post written by Chako, to soon be published by the White House! (See video at time mark of 34 minutes and 35 seconds). She also announced that she would soon issue a Secretarial order for her youth initiative, which among other features formalizes the continuing implementation of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. A press release about the order was released earlier today. We believe this is a significant development and thank the Secretary for her support!

Other Representatives also Highlight Importance of Youth in Conservation and 21st Century Conservation Service Corps

The event also featured high-ranking officials from numerous other agencies and the White House, including White House Counselor John Podesta, Department of Interior Assistant Secretary Rhea Suh, EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, USDA Deputy Under Secretary Arthur Blazer (pictured), and Acting Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Michael Boots. Everyone was emphatic in their support of getting youth involved in conservation, and that the 14 "Champions of Change" were excellent role models for showcasing methods and strategies for involving youth in a variety of conservation efforts. The honorees were evenly split into two moderated panels, where they introduced themselves and answered questions from the moderators, from Twitter, and from the live audience. A video of the first hour of the event has already been posted on Youtube. In total it was a three hour event, so we are still waiting for the next video which should feature Chako and Jon's panel.

Additional Highlights Feature a Trip to Meet Wendy Spencer at the Corporation for National & Community Service, a mural tour at the Department of Interior that concluded with a stop in Secretary Jewell's Office

Both Jon and Chako were invited to the offices of AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) following the event. They were joined by Dr. Benjamin Blonder and Andy Hart, two other "Champions" who each had an AmeriCorps connection. CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer took a few moments to meet each of the honorees and take a photo with them. All of the champions also filmed quick videos with AmeriCorps staff.

Later in the afternoon, the Champions of Change were invited to take a tour of the Department of Interior, and see many of its fantastic and historic murals. Jon and Chako stopped to pose in front of one mural that depicted the Civilian Conservation Corps. The honorees gradually made their way to Secretary Jewell's office, where she again greeted the Champions and took more photos.

Party On Champions

But the fun didn't end there. The champions were invited by The Wilderness Society to their Ansel Adams Gallery to join a reception in honor of Bill Hodge, one of the Champions who was honored as a representative of the Wilderness Society's Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) program. An additional event was organized by our friends with the Outdoors Alliance for Kids.  

Praise from Members of Congress for Chako and Jon

“The White House Champions of Change award is a fitting recognition of Anthony’s environmental stewardship and leadership. He works tirelessly to improve outdoor access on the Navajo Nation,” Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet said. “In true Colorado fashion, Anthony, and the Southwest Conservation Corps, are dedicated to furthering opportunities for all of us to get outside and appreciate the outdoors, while also teaching countless young people the importance of being good stewards of our natural resources.” 

“Today at the White House, a local Moloka`i leader is being honored for his work to preserve our precious island environment and Native Hawaiian cultural practices. Jon has restored many endangered native Hawai`i species and habitats through his work with AmeriCorps and Kupu’s Hawai`i Youth Conservation Corps. I’m so proud of Jon and all that he has done to improve his community and the environment around him, while setting a great example for our keiki to follow. Congratulations, Jon, for this well-deserved honor! Aloha!” — U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard



* We will continue adding to this list as new stories are posted and released.

Boiler Plate: 
Earlier this week as we announced, both Anthony "Chako" Ciocco of Southwest Conservation Corps and Jon Brito of Kupu were honored by the White House for "engaging the next generation of conservation leaders." Read about the highlights and see photos from Jon and Chako's big day!

White House Honors Two Conservation Corps Participants as Conservation Leaders

Several Corps Receive High Honor from The Nature Conservancy for River Restoration Work

Republished from The Nature Conservancy Website

Youth Conservation and Education Programs in the Spotlight

The Southwest Conservation Corps, Western Colorado Conservation Corps and Canyon Country Youth Corps, as well as their river restoration director, Mike Wight, have received the Phil James Conservation Award
DENVER | December 12, 2013

The Nature Conservancy is proud to announce the Southwest Conservation Corps, Western Colorado Conservation Corps and Canyon Country Youth Corps, along with their river restoration director, Mike Wight, as the recipients of the Phil JamesConservation Award. The Phil James Conservation Award is given to an individual or organization for extraordinary contributions or achievements that further the mission of The Nature Conservancy.

This award honors Phil James’ unsurpassed passion and dedication for conservation. He began volunteering for The Nature Conservancy in 1986 when he helped found theNebraska Chapter. Through the years, he served on the Conservancy’s Board of Trustees in Nebraska, Colorado and Alaska. James works tirelessly to support the Conservancy. His leadership and generosity has made an impact on us and for future generations

The Nature Conservancy in Colorado is paying tribute to Wight and the Conservation Corps for their willingness to take on one of the west’s most daunting restoration challenges – removing invasive plants and restoring habitat along 175 miles of the Dolores River, a tributary of the Colorado River. Additionally, the Conservation Corps worked along the Gunnison River. They built rock structures to improve wetland habitat. Corps members, ages 18-26, have diverse backgrounds and are selected from local communities and across the country. Through the restoration work, corps members are learning valuable life and job skills.

“Mike goes the extra mile when it comes to engaging young people,” says Peter Mueller, the Conservancy’s southwest Colorado program director. “He is fostering and inspiring a new generation of conservationists who are committed to solving our most pressing challenges.”

“Strong partnerships are the key to conservation successes,” says Mike Wight, River Restoration Director. “We are grateful to The Nature Conservancy and many other partners who support these important programs. We know that by working together we can protect our lands and waters for generations to come.”The Conservation Corps are credited with getting young people on the right track and shaping our future.

“Mike’s passionate leadership has put so many young men and women in places where they contribute, learn and change the way they see themselves,” adds Tim Sullivan, the Conservancy in Colorado’s state director.

So far, working with these three corps programs, the Dolores River Restoration Partnership has created 175 jobs for young adults and restored 821 acres. This is part of an even bigger effort to create a 21st Century Conservation Service Corpsthrough the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The goal of 21st CSC is increase youth opportunities in the country from a current 30,000 to 100,000 on an annual basis.  This Initiative will put Americans to work, protect our greatest treasures, and build America’s future.


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.


Boiler Plate: 
The Southwest Conservation Corps, Western Colorado Conservation Corps and Canyon Country Youth Corps, as well as their river restoration director, Mike Wight, have received the Phil James Conservation Award.

Southwest Conservation Corps and CCC Legacy Celebrate Anniversaries Together in Tucson, Ariz

From Southwest Conservation Corps' E-Newsletter

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Legacy, Inc. held its national celebration of the 80th anniversary of the CCC in Tucson, Ariz. October 24-27. CCC alumni joined in the events along with other supporters, family, and friends.  Over the four-day event, alumni and participants heard from experts about the CCC's impact in Arizona, mingled with authors of books about the CCC, and celebrated with a service project at the Desert Museum.  Keynote speakers included Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva, US Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Robert Bonnie, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, and Corporation for National and Community Service Deputy Chief of Staff John Kelly.

The Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC), with an office in Tucson, co-hosted the event and also celebrated its 15th anniversary. 

SCC, an AmeriCorps program, enables a new generation to carry on the CCC's ethic of environmental stewardship.  Nearly 7,000 AmeriCorps members serve in this capacity nationwide, including 700 young people and veterans who serve with SCC each year.  Built on the legacy of the CCC, SCC embodies the same principles of hard work, lasting impact, and individual growth.

"We are thrilled to be in Tucson to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the CCC," said Joan Sharpe, CCC Legacy's President.  "Arizona has a strong history of conservation service, and Tucson is an ideal location to celebrate the six million men and the tremendous legacy they left for America."

"SCC is built on the legacy of the CCC, so it is an incredible honor for SCC to host this important national celebration," said Rob Spath, Executive Director of SCC's Arizona programs.  "Each year hundreds of young people and returning Veterans at SCC commit to improving recreation access, protecting communities from wildfire, and strengthening Arizona's national resources."

VIDEO: Corps Partner to Restore the Escalante River Watershed

VIDEO: Corps Partner to Restore the Escalante River Watershed