Senators Udall, Heinrich Introduce Bill to Expand Public Lands Career Opportunities for NM Youth

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have announced that they have reintroduced legislation to expand job opportunities and educational training for New Mexico youth through programs restoring, maintaining and preserving public lands. The Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2015 improves on the existing Public Lands Corps program by offering incentives to attract new participants, particularly those who suffer disproportionate rates of unemployment — including veterans, Native Americans and residents of underserved communities. The bill also expands the scope of projects Corps members are eligible to complete at agencies within the departments of Interior and Agriculture, and creates an Indian Service Youth Corps for Indian tribes to start Corps programs to carry out priority projects on Tribal Lands.

“The Public Lands Service Corps expands opportunities and provides training for young New Mexicans interested in conservation careers preserving our state’s treasured public lands and national parks,” said Udall, Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. “Tourism and the outdoors industry create jobs and help drive the economy in many New Mexico communities. This bill will boost employment, and modernizing the Corps will help inspire a new generation of conservation leaders through public service — all while combatting youth unemployment and helping to enhance our public lands.”

“Expanding the Public Lands Corps program will simultaneously help boost our economy while providing opportunities for young adults who are driven toward preserving our rivers and lakes, national parks and forests, and tribal lands,” Heinrich said. “This bill is particularly significant for tribal families in New Mexico because it establishes the Indian Youth Service Corps so young adults can work to conserve their Native lands. As a former AmeriCorps volunteer, I spent the better part of a year doing construction, education, and fieldwork for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I know first-hand that service programs yield lifelong personal benefits and help make an impact on the lives of those around us.”

The Public Lands Corps was established by the Public Lands Service Corps Act of 1993 to repair and restore national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, historic sites, and other public and tribal lands. While Corps programs continue to employ thousands of young people each year and have proven an effective tool to address a massive backlog of maintenance needs on public lands, inadequate funding in recent years has limited the Corps’ ability to expand their successful models.

Udall and Heinrich’s bill seeks to modernize the Corps and directly engage youth in the conservation and maintenance of public lands. According to the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate among youth ages 16 to 24 in the United States is almost 14.3 percent — nearly triple the national average. The Public Lands Service Corps Act would help them gain the skills and training to pursue careers revitalizing the nation’s public lands.

Specifically, the bill would implement the following updates to the program:

– Raise the priority of the Corps in the Interior and Agriculture Departments (including such agencies as the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service);
– Establish an Indian Youth Service Corps for Indian Tribes to start Corps programs to carry out priority projects on Tribal lands;
– Authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to participate in the program, enabling Corps members to work to restore coastal and marine ecosystems;
– Expand the scope of eligible projects to include activities related to historical, scientific and cultural research; visitor services; and interpretation;
– Establish preference for Corps members to work on projects in their home states; and
– Expand Corps eligibility to youth ages 15 to 25, and veterans no older than 35.

“We are fortunate to have such strong support from our lawmakers in New Mexico,” said Ben Thomas, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. “They are helping to blaze paths for our state’s young people to get the support, job training, and education they need to be successful in life. The Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2015 will enable Corps across the country, like New Mexico’s Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, to continue forging critical partnerships with America’s land managing agencies.”

Additional cosponsors of the bill include U.S. Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has introduced companion legislation. The bill is supported by the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, the National Education Association, New Mexico’s Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, and the Public Lands Service Coalition.