A jobs program that began nearly 90 years ago during President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal is still alive and providing work for young people on public lands.
The Central Oregon Youth Conservation Corps is a seasonal summer job program in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service that hires young people for eight weeks of natural resource conservation work.
“I find it a lot of fun. I enjoy spending time outdoors, doing new jobs, meeting new people. It’s a blast,” said Hannah Rock of Bend.
As corps members, these young people learn job skills, earn wages and become the next generation of conservationists through projects that improve public lands and keep local communities safer from wildfire.
“I love it!” said Isaac Hoag from McMinnville. “Being outside. I like the radio calls. You can hear dispatch talking to other people all over. It’s pretty fun.”
Seventy-five young people ages 16-18 are working in the Youth Conservation Corps on the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests this summer.
They work 9 hours a day, four days a week. They are paid $14 an hour, about $500 a week.
“It’s been awesome. Everyone’s really stoked to get work done. We are getting really efficient. It feels like it’s running really smoothly,” said Corinna Mokotoff, who traveled from Maryland to work for a summer in Oregon. “Everyone seems to be enjoying the work.”
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“They work on public recreation sites. That might be grading or installing signage. They work on fire fuels reduction which is what they are doing right now. They work on controlling invasive species, trails and trail maintenance,” said Laura Handy, Heart of Oregon Corps executive director.
The Youth Conservation Corps is an enduring tradition stemming from the Civilian Conservation Corps that started as a jobs program during the Depression in the 1930s.
During its nine years of existence, the CCC planted more than three billion trees and constructed trails and shelters in more than 800 parks nationwide, helping to shape the modern national and state park systems we enjoy today.
Then and now, the program provides job skills and experiences that help participants prepare for a lifetime of work.
“We do everything from soft skills on working to the technical skills,” said Nick Swagger, program manager. “For a lot of folks, this the first job they’ve ever had. We talk about things to pack in your lunch, and how to come prepared for work each day. All the way down to technical skills: Here’s how to use this particular tool. Teach them how to use the tools properly and safely.”
“I have prior experience,” said Mokotoff, operating a chainsaw. “At the beginning of this position, they gave us training. They gave us Forest Service S212 training which certifies us to do limbing and bucking. It’s the first level of sawyer certification. They keep going up to felling trees. I also have experience on a chainsaw crew last season. It was saws everyday cutting invasive trees every day.”
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“Wildland firefighting, that’s what I want to do,” said Hoag. “My dad did it. He always came back with pictures of helicopters and planes, and I was like, alright that’s what I want to do. This is hopefully, a one-up for me over a lot of other people. Hoping I can get that chance and continue off of his career.”
“I’m thinking field science stuff, outdoors like possibly being a botanist,” said Rock. “That would be really cool or a marine biologist, working outside and studying stuff.”
“One time we made a fence. Built a fence around a weather tower,” said Jacob Godard of Bend. “The other day we deconstructed a trail. We do a lot of this — burn piles, slash, piling wood.”
Program administrators keep in touch with participants, offering help finding future jobs, college placement and an alumni network.
“It’s a great way to get your foot in the door. Get your name and your face out there and try out a bunch of different jobs,” Swagger said. “A huge part of this program is exposing youth to lots of positions and lots of career paths.”
If you are a young person in search of work or know a young person who is looking for a formative first job, contact the Heart of Oregon Corps for more information.