River Partners and the Conservation Corps: Working Together for Restoration
(Above) Corpsmembers use chainsaws to remove invasive arundo from a site in the San Joaquin Valley.
Large-scale weed removal and habitat restoration projects are critical for recovering special-status species and enhancing ecosystem services, but are often extremely labor-intensive endeavors. In California, many of these projects are implemented in regions characterized by chronic unemployment that especially affects young adults seeking to transition into the workforce. As a result, these projects offer unique opportunities to employ, train and empower men and women working for the California Conservation Corps (CCC), various Local Conservation Corps (LCCs), and similar programs to better themselves while engaging in hands-on conservation.
Modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, the CCC was established by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1976, and is the oldest and largest conservation corps in the U.S. with over 120,000 people having participated. Local Conservation Corps, such as the San Joaquin Regional Conservation Corps (SJRCC) and the Urban Corps of San Diego County, are centered on particular regions and communities. Related programs, such as FIELD (Farmworker Institute of Education and Leadership Development), focus on promoting economic and social prosperity for workers in rural regions.
(Above) Corpsmembers installing an irrigation system at Rancho Jamul near San Diego
Over the past five years, River Partners has developed successful partnerships with the CCC, LCCs, FIELD, and other groups to provide approximately 170,000 work hours and $3.2 million in salaries for hundreds of young adults and others in local communities. Corpsmembers are critical for River Partners’ cost-effective implementation of large-scale invasive species removal and habitat restoration projects across the state. These programs have also brought additional funding to our projects; for example, the SJRCC has contributed over $300,000 worth of labor to San Joaquin Valley projects through the Emergency Drought Relief Program.
(Above) Native trees and shrubs being planted by corpmembers at Dos Rios Ranch
River Partners’ staff work closely with crew supervisors to provide corpsmembers hands-on training on virtually every aspect of our on-the-ground projects. Tasks include controlling invasive species, collecting native plant material, preparing restoration sites and installing irrigation, planting and maintaining native species, and assisting with public outreach. Corpsmembers are thus exposed to the full life cycle of restoration projects, developing skills that help them move forward in their own careers.
For example, corpsmembers have been trained on the use of hand tools, herbicide, and heavy equipment to treat invasive weed species including arundo, sesbania, salt cedar, perennial pepperweed, and nonnative blackberry. Identifying and removing these species is hard work, often in challenging field conditions, but the benefits for people and wildlife are worth the effort. As weeds are being treated on a site, corpsmembers are also trained by River Partners staff to identify, collect and process seeds and cuttings from local native plants. Corpsmembers also help by removing trash, woody debris, and old fencing. Once a site has been prepared, corpsmembers are trained to install water-efficient irrigation systems that are critical for establishing native species.
(Above) Corpmembers take a quick “time out” from helping during a volunteer planting event
After irrigation installation, corpsmembers shift their focus to planting native species from seed, cuttings, and potted stock. Attention to detail is critical, since each plant has a predefined location on the site according to the restoration plan. After planting, corpsmembers help maintain irrigation systems and control weeds with herbicide, hand labor, and other methods. Corpsmembers also assist with volunteer planting days and other outreach events.
One of the most satisfying experiences we have at River Partners is when corpsmembers move on and advance their own careers – especially when they end up working for us! As an example of how these partnerships develop employment skills and opportunities, we are happy to welcome former CCC employee Ryan Shepherd to our Southern California office. Ryan is now the Restoration Field Foreman alongside Bill Jenson (Restoration Field Manager) and Dave Roberts (Restoration Ecologist). Prior to joining River Partners, Ryan served in the U.S. Marine Corps before joining the CCC in 2013. Ryan’s experience is already helping him work efficiently with Corps crews on projects throughout Southern California. River Partners looks forward to further partnerships with Conservation Corps and other groups on weed control and restoration projects across the state.