Officials at the Forest Service informed staffers on Friday that at least nine of the agency’s 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers would be closing.
The conservation centers, which are run by federal employees, help train youth in wildland firefighting, forestry, disaster recovery and other outdoor jobs. Their official mission is to educate 16- to 24-year-olds, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, while helping U.S. conservation efforts on public lands.
Many kids end up with vocational and GED certificates as a result of the program. Working in different units of the Forest Service, apprentices in the program also help first responders during national emergencies and disasters.
Most of the centers are clustered in the South and West on national forest lands. Those slated to close are in Montana, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Virginia, Washington, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oregon.
A union representing workers at the sites said it had been informed that the cuts would lead to the elimination of 1,065 positions. Some workers may take early retirements or be transferred to other jobs within the federal government, but many are likely to be laid off.
Forest Service officials told staffers that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue would be transferring control of all 25 of the job centers to the Labor Department. Sixteen would continue to operate, they said, but nine would be “deactivated.”
Vicki Christiansen, the chief of the Forest Service, told staffers it was “very difficult news” to share.
“Please know that this was a high-level policy discussion and decision, and in no way reflects on the excellent work and dedication that you all demonstrate on a daily basis,” Christiansen said.
Later, in a press release, the Labor Department said the 16 centers that remain open may be operated by private contractors. Despite the nine closures, the agency said the changes would lead to a more efficient program. “This action creates an opportunity to serve a greater number of students at higher performing centers at a lower cost to taxpayers,” the release said.
The union representing federal employees who staff the sites has been fighting to keep them open under the Trump administration. The National Federation of Federal Employees said in a statement Friday that the move was made “without forethought or a solid plan.”
“The worst part is, it’s very clear that the Trump administration doesn’t care about the young people in need who rely on this program,” the union said. “This Administration’s continued indifference to helping minority and disadvantaged communities is appalling.”
“Forest Service Job Corps is a program of opportunity,” the agency says on its website. “The majority of its students come from low-income communities, both urban and rural, who are seeking pathways to prosperity. After completing training, graduates return to their communities as productive workers, consumers, community leaders and entrepreneurs.”