Conservation Youth Corps in the Southwest: Collaborating for Large-scale River Restoration

In recent years, six separate youth conservation corps based in Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Arizona have collaborated to restore habitat along various rivers in the Colorado River Basin. Their collective work—while geographically expansive and ambitious in scope—is gaining momentum.

This website is documenting and promoting the cooperative success of these conservation corps, as crews remove non-native plants such as Russian olive and tamarisk, re-establish beneficial native species such as willows and cottonwoods, and do other physical work that improves river and watershed habitat for wildlife and people. The site was created by Mike Wight, River Restoration Director for the Southwest Conservation Corps, as an outreach tool and resource guide based on his experience working with a number of watershed restoration partnerships.

“The website serves to highlight the rigorous work of crews and interns on the ground,” says Wight. “It explains the multiple collaborations that fund and implement complex restoration initiatives, like those of the Dolores River Restoration Partnership or the Escalante River Watershed Partnership, and compiles resources to aid in training, education, and best practices for riparian habitat improvement.” [We recently wrote a post about the Escalante River Restoration Partnership and a training that took place for 80 new corps members.]


Southwest Conservation Corps members work to clear a washed out road near the Dolores River. (Photos courtesy of Mike Wight)

The corps are working mainly on the Dolores River (CO, UT), Escalante River (UT), Verde River (UT, AZ) Virgin River (AZ, NV, UT), and the Gila River (AZ). All are essential rivers for people and wildlife in the Southwest. They are also important tributaries flowing into the Colorado River, which provides water for 30 million people in seven western states, irrigates 4 million acres of land in the U.S. and Mexico and is considered the lifeblood of at least 15 Native American tribes and communities, seven National Wildlife Refuges, four National Recreation Areas, 11 National Parks, and dozens of parcels of the National Conservation Lands. Needless to say, restoring habitat along these rivers and in these watersheds on both private and public land is essential work, and conservation youth corps are rising to the occasion.

Money to recruit, train and pay youth corps comes from a patchwork of sources: government agencies such as the BLM or U.S. Forest Service, some state and city funding, and donations from private foundations and corporations (such as a donation last spring from Royal Bank of Canada that allowed us to fund restoration work on the Colorado River in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area). Congress’s recent inaction and the government shutdown will take funding away from youth corps and cause projects to be delayed or cancelled. The larger concept of expanding youth corps involvement on public lands, however, has gained traction among some of our nation’s political leaders.

For example, engaging young people and local communities to be stewards of public lands is one component of the Obama Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) Program. A national advisory committee was also tapped to make recommendations to the AGO leadership on how to create a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) that will accomplish nationally—and on a variety of public lands, waterways, cultural heritage sites and community green spaces—what these six Conservation Corps are doing in the Southwest.

Questions about the collaborative work of these youth corps in the Colorado River Basin (or the website?) Contact Mike Wight, River Restoration Director, Southwest Conservation Corps. mike@sccorps.org

A 2013 Southwest Conservation Corps crew, on the banks of the Dolores River, CO.

Members of a 2013 Southwest Conservation Corps crew, on the banks of the Dolores River, CO.

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