The U.S. Forest Service will start awarding $10 million in contracts this week for hazardous fuel reduction projects in Oregon.
That work will go to private companies already under contract with the Forest Service and is expected to employ about a hundred workers.
“It’s the kind of work we’ve been doing for many years. Reducing fuel in the fire prone areas, thinning trees out,” says Tom Knappenberger, a spokesman for the Forest Service. “In some cases, it’s mechanical. In other cases, it’s prescribed burns. All the normal tools we use to reduce the fuels in places that are likely to burn and would cause threats to resources.”
In Oregon, the Rogue River – Siskiyou, Umpqua, Deschutes, and Ochoco National Forests are all on the list for fuel reduction projects using stimulus funds.
Knappenberger says this is the first round of project funding from a total of $1.15 billion allotted nationally to the Forest Service under the federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Among that money, $6.5 million is going to the Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development, a state agency that administers the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps. The OYCC is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps created by the federal government in the 1930’s.
“As soon as we can get approval to spend this money, there will be youth that are already in school in OYCC crew programs that will start up immediately,” says Krissa Coldwell, deputy commissioner of the Community Colleges and Workforce Development.
Coldwell says the federal money will create 1500 new OYCC jobs over the next year and half, many of them on national forests.
“It’s about conservation and natural resources. So they’re working on trail building, invasive species removal, and fish and wildlife habitat work,” says Coldwell.
The OYCC jobs are for youth aged 16-25 who are currently unemployed. They’re minimum wage jobs that pay $8.40 per hour, more for crew leaders.
The plan is to have at least two OYCC crews working in every county in the state— this summer and next.
“There’s plenty of natural resources kind of work to do in Oregon. So we’re positioned well to be able to supply that demand,” says Coldwell.
Another government agency hoping to put the nation’s youth to work on public lands is the Bureau of Land Management.
The BLM has $320 million nationally to spend on stimulus projects, says Kendra Barkoff, press secretary for U.S. interior secretary Ken Salazar. He oversees the BLM as well as the National Parks Service.
“The secretary wants to focus on renewable energy, youth, as well as treasured landscapes and American icons,” says Barkoff. “He’s working on developing a civilian youth corps, getting our youth involved with a lot of these issues.”
Barkoff says more details about how this will work in Oregon should be available in the next couple of weeks.