Support the next generation of stewards! Forest Steward Youth Corps crews are starting up.

Written by Eytan Krasilovsky.

Spring in northern New Mexico is always exciting. The weather changes quickly with snow, rain, wind, and red-flag days all possible in the same week. For Guild staff in Santa Fe, spring is also the season to hire and gear-up for our summer and fall Forest Stewards Youth Corps crews. These crews do amazing conservation work on public lands every year, but there are still funding gaps for the program and we need your help.

The Forest Stewards Youth Corps (Youth Corps) program is over 20 years old and dates to the work and relationships of the Forest Trust in New Mexico from the 1990s. The Youth Corps program is based on a longstanding partnership between the Guild, the USDA Forest Service, the National Forest Foundation, and New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps.

The primary mission of the program is to foster the next generation of forest stewards through hands-on, project-based conservation projects. The summer program serves high school aged youth and in 2018, the Youth Corps was expanded to include a fall program serving an older age cohort (18-25 years), which emphasizes wildland firefighter training and prescribed fire implementation. By providing work experience, education, training, and mentorship, the Youth Corps empowers youth with the skills and certifications they need to pursue careers and higher education in natural resource management. Crew members are recruited from the rural communities in which they serve and are hosted by U.S. Forest Service ranger districts. District staff identify priority projects that reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and improve recreational, wildlife, and cultural resources that Youth Corps members and their families enjoy.

In 2019, the summer and fall programs will field 6 crews and employ 40 youth on the Cibola and Santa Fe National Forests. Project work includes trail maintenance, noxious weed removal, hazardous fuels reduction, and preparing and implementing prescribed burns among many other projects. These are paid positions and corps members receive college credits, training certificates, and learn about local conservation issues through mentorship with professionals. 

Over the course of the 2018 9-week summer program, Youth Corps crews accomplished a wide variety of natural resource projects. These projects helped restore ecosystems and wildlife habitat, reduced the risk of wildfires, improved recreational opportunities, and protected important cultural sites on their host Forest Service ranger districts. Crew members participated in 42 training sessions for a total of 2,352 hours. The program also awarded 54 college credit hours through a partnership with Santa Fe Community College. Crew work projects accomplished 54.1 miles of fence maintenance, 26.2 miles of trail maintenance, restored 21 campsites, built 40 slash piles across 11 acres, restored 57 fire pits, completed 15 bighorn sheep survey plots, removed noxious weeds from 98 acres, built 9 erosion control structures, constructed 5.75 miles of fireline, cleaned ¼ mile of irrigation ditches, conducted 9 surveys of archeological sites, and conducted 25 forest inventory plots across 250 acres. 

There were also many work and training accomplishments of the inaugural fall program in 2018. The highlight for the fall crews were when they were able to put their wildland fire training to use on three complex prescribed burns, where they helped restore fire to 990 acres. As the season ended Guild staff were excited to learn that several corps members found continued employment with local fire departments and our own Gravitas Peak Wildland Fire Module.

Guild staff work nearly year-round to sustain the program and a diversity of funding sources are needed to fill all the program needs. That is where Guild members and supporters come in. The program needs your help to fill all the funding gaps and make sure every corps member, crew, and season is a success. Please consider supporting this core Guild program!