President Joe Biden on Wednesday mobilized 20,000 young people as part of a new American Climate Corps that will train the next generation of workers in using climate resilient strategies to conserve public lands.
The workforce and service initiative is modeled after the New Deal program of the 1930s that rallied tens of thousands of young workers on projects like Red Rocks Amphitheater, roads and campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park and Forest Service trails across the state.
“The good news for Coloradans is that we are already there,” said Scott Segerstrom, the executive director of the Colorado Youth Corps Association, which represents eight conservation corps across the state that sends out 1,695 workers — from middle schoolers spending an hour a month to military veterans training to become wildland firefighters — on climate, clean energy and wildfire projects across the state.
Two years ago the CYCA joined Colorado’s Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse to launch the Colorado Climate Corps “and it became a proof of concept that a national program could work,” Segerstrom said.
The Colorado Climate Corps — sparked with $1.7 million from the state — deployed 633 AmeriCorps workers across Colorado to help communities mitigate the threat of wildfires, improve trails and upgrade homes with energy-efficient improvements. The new American Climate Corps workers — like most with the AmeriCorps — will earn $15 an hour, including lodging, transportation, health benefits and more.
The announcement by the Biden Administration on Wednesday will expand the state’s program into more trails and forests and increase the number of projects that include invasive species eradication and fence construction and removal.
“The American Climate Corps program puts more oxygen into this ecosystem,” Segerstrom said. “We will recruit more members. We will reach more underserved communities and we will protect more acres of land and miles of waterways.”
A statement from Primavera said the state was proud to be at the forefront of the effort to address climate change and harness “the power of AmeriCorps to preserve our breathtaking landscapes.”
The Colorado Youth Corps Association partners with Great Outdoors Colorado, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management for paid work. The corps last year planted 12,487 trees, worked on 335 miles of trails, installed energy-saving devices in 1,678 homes, thinned 5,294 acres of forest and maintained 118 campsites.
Neguse, a Democrat from Boulder, has spent the past two years pushing legislation that would create a “21st Century Civilian Climate Corps” inspired by the workers organized under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps who helped transform the country coming out of the Great Depression. His proposal directed federal support to young corps workers who would help with wildfire suppression work and recovery after the 2021 Marshall Fire and 2020 Cameron Park and East Troublesome fires. In a statement he said the new workforce “will prepare a new era of workers for good-paying jobs in a clean economy.”
Segerstrom calls that workforce development angle “a corps to career pathway.” The Biden plan calls for workforce training agreements between America Climate Corps and several federal agencies — including federal land managers, the Department of Labor, the Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — that will create a coordinated program to funnel young service workers directly into careers. American Climate Corps workers also can get awards that can reduce student debt or pay for college.
“The climate corps has the potential to be a launching pad for our members to both change their world and change their own lives,” Segerstrom said. “This program works and we are already proving it. If we enroll more members, that means more young people go to college and increase their economic independence. These are Colorado successes we are now sharing with the country.”