Wolf Creek Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center Director Gabe Wishart said Thursday his staff remains mission-focused, despite uncertainty about the program’s future.
The staff learned May 24 that Wolf Creek is among 16 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers across the country that will soon be shifted from operating under the U.S. Forest Service to operating under private contractors for the Department of Labor — a move that could be damaging to its most popular training program, in forestry conservation and firefighting. Another nine CCCs will be eliminated altogether, including one of the three in Oregon.
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, are leading a bipartisan group of federal legislators opposing the change. They penned a letter Wednesday to the directors of the Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Department of Forestry. In addition, Merkley and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, introduced legislation Thursday aimed at blocking the shift.
Wolf Creek offers a variety of educational and vocational programs, and partners with Umpqua Community College and the Umpqua National Forest. Students entering the program are often those for whom traditional schooling wasn’t a good fit.
Wishart said Wolf Creek’s most popular program with students is the forestry conservation and firefighting trade, which has between 24 and 30 students at all times, around the year. Those students make significant contributions to the annual wildland firefighting effort. Some of those students go out on fire camp assignments to prepare food or manage supplies, while about 20 are currently shopped out to serve as firefighters for the season.
“It has just been a tremendous opportunity for our students to belong to something, to feel like they’re contributing and giving back,” Wishart said.
It’s work that benefits both the community and the students, he said.
“You can see the pride when the students know they’re out there putting back into their community, contributing in a very tangible immediate way to something as dynamic as fire suppression,” he said.
Altogether, Wolf Creek students contributed 20,000 hours of service on natural resource projects in the Umpqua National Forest last year. The organization’s close partnership with the Umpqua National Forest will likely be jeopardized by the shift away from Forest Service management, Wishart said.
Wishart said Wolf Creek staff is largely made up of instructors who grew up in Douglas County. They’re not yet certain how the program will be impacted, including whether any jobs could be lost. Despite that uncertainty about the future of their jobs, Wishart said Wolf Creek’s staff members remain mission focused and have maintained their dedication to the students.
“We get an opportunity to change lives here, and part of that is imparting a commitment to community, a commitment to the principles of natural resource conservation and that kind of work and it’s incredibly meaningful work. We’re not overly certain what the future holds but we’re still committed to the work we’re doing now,” Wishart said.