U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich today reintroduced legislation to expand job training and educational opportunities for youth, while helping repair and restore the country's public lands.
The Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2013 improves on the existing Public Lands Corps by expanding the scope of projects to reflect new challenges. It would also add incentives to attract new participants, including Native Americans and veterans, that suffer from disproportionately high rates of unemployment.
"As many of our public land managers retire, we have the opportunity to create a new generation of conservation leaders to protect the lands and natural environment that make New Mexico so spectacular," said Udall. "Passing this legislation would also help combat the unacceptably high unemployment young people face by providing them with job training, education and skills they can utilize long into their careers."
"Strengthening the Public Lands Corps program will continue to provide rewarding opportunities for young adults who want to work to preserve our water and public lands, such as our rivers and lakes, national parks and forests, and tribal lands. This bill is also particularly significant for tribal families in New Mexico because it establishes the Indian Youth Service Corps where young adults can work to preserve their tribal lands and strengthen their communities. As a former AmeriCorps volunteer myself, I spent the better part of a year doing construction, education, and fieldwork for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and I know first-hand that these programs are essential to improve the lives of those around us," said Heinrich.
Currently, several agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service work with national nonprofit organizations and more than 100 service corps to hire and train young people to build trails, perform maintenance, and assist with conservation projects.
An array of local, regional and national organizations support expanding the Public Lands Corps Act, including the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, the National Education Association and the Public Lands Service Coalition, which includes the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in New Mexico.
"Senators Udall and Heinrich understand the positive impacts that come from linking community service with environmental stewardship," said Carl Colonius, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Taos, New Mexico. "I thank them for introducing the Public Lands Service Corps Act and inspiring young people in New Mexico and across the country to revitalize communities, preserve and restore the environment, prepare for responsible, productive lives and build civic spirit through service."
Specifically the senators' bill would do the following:
Amend the Public Lands Corps Act of 1993 to raise the priority of service corps in the Interior and Agriculture Departments (including such agencies as the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service);
Establish an Indian Youth Service Corps so that Indian Tribes can start corps programs to carry out priority projects on Tribal lands, which Udall has worked to include in legislation since 2009;
Authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Department of Commerce to participate in the program, which would allow Corps members to work on restoring coastal and marine ecosystems;
Provides for establishing residential conservation centers to house and train corps participants;
Expand the scope of eligible projects to include working with agency professionals on activities including historical, scientific and cultural research, visitor services, and interpretation;
Allow agencies to provide noncompetitive hiring status for Corps participants for two years after completing service. Current law allows such status for only 120 days; and
Expand the age range for the program is to youth aged 15 to 25, and participants may serve either in crews or as individuals.
The legislation was also introduced by Sen. Udall and retired Sen. Jeff Bingaman during the 112th Congress and it cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The new Senate legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).