Job Corps is a critical part of inspiring youth stewardship, service
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it was reversing course on its proposal to close or privatize 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers operated by the U.S. Forest Service.
This reversal is good news, but it didn't happen by chance. This change in course was due to engaged citizens and many community leaders at the local and federal level speaking loudly and clearly that these centers are critical to our communities.
Job Corps centers offer unparalleled vocational training to disadvantaged youth in rural regions of our state. They also provide mentorship and guidance.
The centers currently operate in 17 national forests and other lands across 16 states and provide training to over 3,000 youth and young adults.
Three of these centers are located in Washington: in White Swan, Moses Lake and Curlew.
The positive impacts these centers have here and across the nation are profound.
The Moses Lake center alone serves roughly 230 youth ages 16 to 24 each year, most of whom are low-income, at-risk students. The programs include room and board as well as some paid on-the-job training opportunities.
Those students are getting real-world training to be the next generation of wildland firefighters, foresters, nurses and carpenters. And, by creating a home-grown workforce for in-demand, good-paying careers, we create stronger, safer communities.
The negative impacts of closing these centers would have been significant, and they would have been felt immediately. Most notably, the closures would have occurred right as we enter wildfire season.
One invaluable contribution of Job Corps students is that they are integrated into our wildfire response, both fighting fires directly and providing logistical support to fire camps.
As elected officials, we were proactive in advocating for Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers – taking our message to the other Washington as recently as last week. Jim Hubbard, USDA's Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, heard directly that residents of the 13th Legislative District support keeping these centers open, and the many reasons why.
The state Department of Natural Resources – our state's wildfire fighting force – and local leaders have a stake in protecting those programs and the people who do the hard work on the ground to prepare the leaders of today and tomorrow.
We applaud U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse's (WA-4) and others' quick action to preserve the funding for the centers in the budget. He rightly pointed out that if the closures take place, we would lose the expertise of the U.S. Forest Service as well as the wildfire suppression workforce that is critical to rural, fire-prone regions in the state.
We need to invest more in our young people, not less. And we need to ensure that young people are exposed to job opportunities in natural resource fields – jobs that allow them to live and work in their hometowns while providing vital services to their neighbors.
Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers here and across the nation are great catalysts to continue to provide economic opportunity and community service. We are proud to have advocated on their behalf.
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, first elected in 2016, oversees the state Department of Natural Resources. Sworn into office in 2015, Rep. Tom Dent represents the 13th Legislative District, which includes Lincoln and Kittitas counties, as well as parts of Grant and Yakima counties.