The Trump Administration has backed off on its attempt to close two U.S. Forest Service job training centers in Oregon in Washington as well as seven others nationally, officials confirmed Thursday.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue informed members of Congress Wednesday that the nine Jobs Corps Civilian Conservation Centers would stay open and under Forest Service control – as would 16 others that the administration had wanted to transfer to private contractors.
The Timber Lake Jobs Corps center in Estacada and the Fort Simcoe center near Yakima, Washington were among those facing closure. Oregon also has the Angell center in Yachats and the Wolf Creek center in Glide. There are also centers in the Eastern Washington communities of Moses Lake and Curlew.
The administration’s reversal on the program for low-income, at-risk youth was first reported by Politico. The attempt to slash the Job Corps program was met with a wave of protest from members of Congress, including several lawmakers from Oregon and Washington.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, complained that the closures and shift to private contracting would hinder firefighting resources in Oregon and other western states. Job Corps students have long performed a number of support jobs for frontline fire crews.
“Today’s news is a huge victory for the people of Oregon and for rural communities across the country,” said Merkley in a statement. He added, “At a time when the west has faced devastating, back-to-back fire seasons, dismantling the CCCs was a reckless and wrong-headed decision.”
“This is great news that the secretary (of agriculture) has relented,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, in a statement. “We need more workers in our forests, not fewer.”
The initial decision last month to either shut down the centers or shift control to private contractors threatened the layoff of 1,100 Forest Service workers.
At the time Perdue said in a letter that the Job Corps programs were being transferred to the Labor Department and his agency needed to focus on the “core natural resource mission” of protecting national forests.
At the same time, the Labor Department said it could run the programs at a lower cost to taxpayers by “modernizing and reforming” a program that has its roots in the Civilian Conservation Corps created during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal quickly grew in Congress, including among many Republican lawmakers who have centers in their states.