For Veterans in California, Restoring Public Lands Offers a New Career Path
By Ryan Sharrow
I grew up in the California Desert, spending my childhood in Hesperia and high school years in Needles. When I joined the Army I spent time in some very different landscapes – Georgia, and Alaska for mountaineering school. That is where I began to love the outdoors.
It took going far away and being in a totally different environment to appreciate what I have in my own backyard. Thanks to my service in the Army, I was exposed to experiences that helped open my eyes and expand my appreciation for the outdoors and the value of our public lands in America.
When I left the Army I knew I still wanted to do something meaningful to serve others, and I found the California Conservation Corps (CCC), which offers veterans programs that help young former Service Members transition from military jobs to green jobs in wildland firefighting, forestry, and fisheries.
I started with an interest in firefighting, but I became fascinated by how the environment works; how everything within the landscape is interconnected, and what it takes to effectively manage our public lands.
As a soldier, my duty was to protect America. Now, the CCC Veterans Program has offered me a new career path working with diverse communities and different state and federal agencies, to continue to protect America’s beautiful outdoors.
I feel deeply rewarded to be able to do this work. I think it’s important that all people have the opportunity to experience and enjoy nature, because that’s how the world used to be, and we shouldn’t lose the spectacular landscapes that we have left. Being outdoors also reminds me of the skills I learned in the Army – learning how to camp and live outside – and I get to pass these skills on to others. It’s so empowering for me and for those I get to teach and work with.
Now I take great pride in where I come from, as well. The California Desert has so much beauty and history to offer, like iconic Route 66 and the open, undeveloped landscape around it, which are permanently protected as part of the new Mojave Trails National Monument.
In March I participated in a three-week stewardship project celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Sand to Snow National Monument in one of its most culturally rich areas. This great project was made possible by a public-private partnership among Edison International, the CCC, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and local nonprofit groups and community volunteers. Together we restored miles of trails and habitat, and cleaned up tons of trash to help rehabilitate the landscape.
Veterans like me get to do work like this all over California year-round. Giving back to our country this way—to our homes—is an unparalleled opportunity that I am glad to be a part of.
I used to not understand why there were certain policies and practices. Then I learned more about public lands management and preservation, and now I know firsthand that if we don’t all do our part to help protect our public lands, we will lose these natural spaces and our access to them. That’s why National Monuments like Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails are so important.
Once we start rolling back protections, or handing over our public lands, it’s hard to stop. Instead, we should keep public lands in public hands, along the way providing great jobs and careers for real people like me, and many other young veterans looking to continue to serve our country and build a great future.
Only a month after Mr. Sharrow participated in the stewardship and restoration of Sand to Snow National Monument, made possible through public-private partnership, President Trump announced a review of the National Monument along with 26 others nationwide. Congressman Paul Cook has recommended changes to Sand to Snow that would facilitate transmission lines fought for years by local communities. On August 24, Interior Secretary Zinke is scheduled to release his recommendations on the fate of the many of the monuments under review, including Sand to Snow.