At a congressional briefing yesterday on the Public Lands Service Corps, Congressman Raúl Grijalva declared his support for youth, jobs and public lands.
The Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2011 would expand opportunities for young people between the ages of 16 and 25 to do much-needed conservation work on our public lands and waterways. The bill would provide job training for long-term careers in public lands stewardship while addressing a backlog of maintenance work on our lands.
I was honored to participate on yesterday’s briefing panel to discuss the need for more opportunities for military families and veterans to get outdoors. Since 2007, Sierra Club has supported experiences for nearly 50,000 military children, families and veterans to connect with nature. This past April, Sierra Club was honored to be part of First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s launch of “Joining Forces” for our commitment to send 5,000 military kids to summer camp in partnership with the National Military Family Association and the YMCA of the USA. We continue to look for opportunities to support the military community and I believe the Public Lands Service Corps is one way to do so.
The Corps experience supports veterans in three key ways. First, the outdoors heals. About 20% of our returning troops from Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress or major depression. Research is demonstrating that time in nature can reduce stress.
Second, one in five of veterans under the age of 24 is unemployed. A recent report from the Center for American Progress, estimates that public land conservation provides over 600,000 jobs in America. The Corps provides training for long-term careers in public lands stewardship.
And third, veterans are already leaders with a deep sense of service to our country. A report called “All Volunteer Force: From Military to Civilian Service” found that 90% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans believe service is a basic responsibility of every American. Among veterans wanting to serve their community, 86% want to serve at-risk youth and more than two-thirds say they want to help protect the environment.
Not only is the Public Lands Service Corps good for returning veterans, but it is also good for youth, our public lands and our economy. Young people are increasingly disconnected from the natural world, and a Corps experience provides them opportunities to spend time in the great outdoors while gaining valuable job skills. Sierra Club has worked with groups like the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, the Wellness Coalition and the Earth Conservation Corps to increase opportunities for underserved youth to participate in conservation work and skills training.
Distinguished panelists from yesterday’s briefing included Sade Demery, an alumnus of the Student Conservation Association; Craig Mackey from the Outdoor Industry Association; Harry Bruell from the Public Lands Service Coalition; and Mary Ellen Ardouny from The Corps Network. The panel was moderated by Destry Jarvis and featured the Honorable Raúl Grijalva, Congressman from Arizona. The briefing addressed how a long-standing bipartisan approach to completing critical work on federal public land, leveraging private resources, and promoting stewardship can help create jobs for our youth, while also providing reintegration opportunities for our young veterans.
--Jacqueline Ostfeld, Sierra Club's National Youth Representative