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Western Lawmakers Propose A New Deal-Inspired Conservation Corps

USFS Rocky Mountains
A mountain biker riding in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming Credit:

Two Western lawmakers have reintroduced companion bills to establish a federal conservation corps. It would invest $9 billion in a civilian workforce dedicated to public lands, part of a $40 billion package focused on conservation, restoration and rural economies.

Originally introduced last summer, Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, both Democrats, revived their 21st Century Conservation Corps Act this month.

In a press release Neguse called the legislation "much-needed stimulus for America's public lands and rural economies by taking a page out of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's successful playbook and revitalizing this popular program born out of the New Deal."

Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the conservation group Center for Western Priorities, says the original Civilian Conservation Corps's contributions to public lands infrastructure can be seen all across the West.

"It is one of the most visible symbols that you can still see today of how a program like this works and has a lasting impact on our public lands decades - now almost a century - later," he said.

The new conservation corps would hire and train people for traditional conservation jobs like trail building, as well as wildfire mitigation.

"There is going to be an urgent need to conduct these projects and get them finished across our public lands in order to protect communities," Weiss said.

And the need for such jobs is especially acute, he added, amid the pandemic-induced recession - and the growing pandemic-induced pressures on the public lands in the West.

"The pandemic has also raised awareness of the outdoors and public lands because it's one of the few places where Americans can go and safely recreate during the pandemic," Weiss said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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