The Trump administration announced Friday it will close two U.S. Forest Service job training centers in Oregon and Washington.
The Timber Lake Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center (CCC) in Estacada, Oregon, and the Fort Simcoe CCC near Yakima, Washington, are two of nine facilities nationwide that will close.
The CCC job centers offer programs in vocational fields like forestry and renewable resources, hospitality and construction. They offer no-cost vocational training targeting low-income, at-risk youth. The programs include room and board and some paid on-the-job training opportunities.
“Most of these students are students that have failed high school and have given up and dropped out,” said Brian Hickman, who graduated from and currently works at the Timber Lake Job Corps in Oregon.
He learned about the decision to close Timber Lake Friday morning. Hickman is also the chief steward for the National Federation of Federal Employees, Local 1697.
The remaining 16 centers, which include Angell CCC in Yachats, Oregon, and Wolf Creek CCC in Glide, Oregon, will no longer be operated by the Forest Service. They will be taken over by private or “partnership” contracts overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Nationally, all the Job Corps CCCs will stop accepting students and begin laying off or out-placing staff, according to an email from the acting head of the National Job Corps Association. The layoffs will affect about 1,100 Forest Service employees, the email stated, and will be completed by the end of September.
In a news release, the Labor Department said the change “creates an opportunity to serve a greater number of students at higher performing centers at a lower cost to taxpayers.”
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., doesn’t see it that way.
“They are just important and valuable facilities that we don’t want to lose,” he said.
The closures will impact the resources available to fight wildfires in Oregon. Job trainees at the center have been integrated into wildfire response. The students fill support positions during wildfires, like serving on engine crews and working culinary and other jobs in fire camp.
“Here we’re talking about taking away people from fighting fires and taking away from these programs that are very helpful for students on an alternative track. So it hurts in a number of ways,” Merkley said.
He said that over the past three years the Forest Service job centers in Oregon have trained more than 900 students who worked nearly 120,000 hours on wildfires.
Merkley said he intends to put a hold on Department of Agriculture nominees in the Senate until “we hear from the secretary and get a full analysis.”
Neither the Forest Service nor the Department of Labor responded to requests for comment.