Washington, D.C. September 16, 2022 – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley along with Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced the bipartisan Civilian Conservation Center Enhancement Act. This bill directs the Secretary of Agriculture and the Department of Interior to offer specialized training, specifically wildland firefighter training, to Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center students.
“Every year, our wildfire risk grows as climate chaos intensifies the danger—and it’s scary to think that we might not have enough wildland firefighters to keep on top of this growing risk,” said Senator Merkley.“That’s where Civilian Conservation Centers can play such an important role in training new firefighters and helping get more folks into the hiring pipeline. In Oregon, these facilities not only make our communities safer by reducing the risk of wildfires, but also provide valuable job training for at-risk youth in rural areas. I look forward to working with Senator Daines to ensure these centers, students, and programs are supported to bolster public health and foster meaningful job opportunities.”
“Montana Job Corps Centers help train and prepare young Montanans to enter the workforce,” said Senator Daines. “These centers play an irreplaceable role in our communities especially as the threat of wildfires grow and the forestry sector continues to face labor shortages. Expanding the forestry curriculum, supporting these centers, and ensuring students have a pipeline to long-term careers will help create more job opportunities for young Montanans and protect our communities.”
This bipartisan bill would direct the agencies to offer specialized wildland firefighter training to students at Civilian Conservation Centers and create a pipeline into careers fighting fires and caring for our public lands. It would a set a goal for each federal agency to hire 300 students a year and provides a direct hire authority specific to CCC graduates to expedite that process. It would create a pilot program to use CCC student to address the lack of workforce housing for wildland firefighters.
The legislation builds on the bipartisan momentum to increase the utilization of this program to address the concerning shortage of wildland firefighters at federal agencies. Senator Merkley and Senator Daines led a bipartisan letter last month urging Secretaries of the Department of Labor, Department of Agriculture, and Department of the Interior make great use of Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (CCCs) as part of the solution to the shortage of wildland firefighters. The letter highlighted concerns about the current wildfire season and called attention to the need to meet wildland firefighter and wood products workforce development, recruitment, and retention challenges to better position this critical workforce to prevent and respond to wildfire events.
In 2019, Senator Merkley and Senator Daines were leaders in a bipartisan effort to save the Job Corps CCC program when it was targeted for termination under the Trump administration.
Final bill text can be found here.
A one page summary of the bill can be found here.