Washington, D.C. – As wildfire season continues, bipartisan legislation to train more firefighters introduced by Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) took a step forward in the Senate today. Earlier this month, Senators Merkley and Daines teamed up to introduce the Civilian Conservation Center Enhancement Act directing the Secretary of Agriculture and the Department of Interior to offer specialized training—specifically wildland firefighter training—to Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center (CCC) students. Today the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on the bill.
“Season after season, climate chaos continues to intensify wildfire risk in the West, and it is scary to think that we might not have enough wildland firefighters to stay on top of this growing danger,” said Merkley. “Civilian Conservation Centers play such an important role in training new firefighters and helping get more folks into the hiring pipeline. In Oregon, these facilities not only make our communities safer by reducing the risk of wildfires, but also provide valuable job training for at-risk youth in rural areas. So I’m glad this bill is getting the attention it needs in a timely manner. Oregon and the West will greatly benefit if we can boost our pipeline of qualified wildland firefighters as this critical need grows.”
“Montana’s job corps centers do a great job at helping train and prepare young Montanans to enter the workforce,” said Daines. “Congress and the Forest Service must work together to ensure Montana’s job corps centers are the best that they can be. My bipartisan bill with Senator Merkley does just that.”
The U.S. Forest Service operates 24 Civilian Conservation Centers on federal lands across the country, including three in Oregon. CCCs have a unique mission and combine the traditional Job Corps program with courses and skills to address our nation’s conservation and wildfire challenges. Since October 1, 2021, 249 students at CCCs have deployed on fire assessments—many for multiple times—and provided 150,000 hours of service on fires and other conservation projects across the country. The legislation builds on bipartisan momentum to increase the utilization of this program to address the concerning shortage of wildland firefighters at federal agencies. Senator Merkley and Senator Daines led a bipartisan letter in August urging Secretaries of the Department of Labor, Department of Agriculture, and Department of the Interior to make great use of Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (CCCs) as part of the solution to the shortage of wildland firefighters.
The bipartisan Civilian Conservation Center Enhancement Act would:
- Direct the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior to offer and pilot specialized training for wildland fire, forestry, and rangeland management at Civilian Conservation Centers.
- Direct the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior to conduct an assessment of workforce needs at public land agencies and related industries to determine what necessary curriculum, develop marketing and recruitment materials, and provide specialized staff.
- Set a goal for both the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior to hire 300 CCC graduates each per year into wildland firefighter or other critical workforce needs and allows the agencies to offer signing bonus to graduates.
- Provide a direct hire authority to the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior for graduates of CCC programs and directs both agencies to identify and develop career pathways for graduates at their agencies.
- Clarify the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior’s authority to pay students at CCC for work they do to improve federal lands.
- Create a pilot program to deploy CCC students to repair or construct workforce housing to house wildland firefighters and other agency employees.
This legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Mike Rounds (R-SD).
The bill is endorsed by the National Job Corps Association, the National Federation of Federal Employees, The Corps Network, the Western Fire Chiefs Association, the Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, the Forest Resources Association, American Forests, and Wildland Firefighter Foundation.