Forestry Corps Improving California’s Forest Health

man in full ppe tying rope with female in full ppe in background

Tahoe Center Corpsmember Kenneth Lockett prepares a rope as part of a tree felling technique during a fuel reduction project in South Lake Tahoe, CA.

The threat of wildfires and climate change has many Californians wondering about the health of the state’s forests. The young adults of the California Conservation Corps are not only concerned about the impact of drought on our trees and wildlands, they are doing something about it.

“We’re trying to save all these tree species,” said CCC Solano Corpsmember Francisco Hernandez. “Being a part of something bigger than myself just feels good. We’re concerned about what’s happening after the fires. I get a lot of enjoyment out of this work.”

The CCC Forestry Corps is helping young adults gain the experience they need for forestry careers with hands-on, paid training. At the CCC’s Solano and Tahoe Centers in Northern California, Corpsmembers get unique opportunities to learn job skills and network with prospective employers. Corpsmembers regularly cut down trees considered hazardous. Thinning the forests also reduces water competition and allows trees to grow healthier.

“My favorite part about falling trees is definitely when they hit the ground,” said CCC Tahoe Corpsmember Shane Reynolds, of Fairfield. “The thud. You can feel it in your chest. After the CCC, I want to work for the Forest Service. I’m just stepping higher and higher toward that goal.”

Tahoe Corpsmembers spend 30 hours per week in the field and another 20 taking classes at Lake Tahoe Community College. The coursework goes toward earning an associate degree or certificate of accomplishment. Meanwhile, at the Solano Center in Fairfield, Corpsmembers are getting the rare experience of helping future conifers grow healthy as they work at one of CAL FIRE’s reforestation centers.

“The program is fantastic,” said Tahoe Corpsmember Kenneth Lockett, of Sacramento. “We’re able to go to school and work toward a degree and have it paid for, which is phenomenal. I’m working and able to go to school and don’t have to spend any money.”

female corpsmember hunched over pushed large log of tree trunk

A CCC Tahoe Corpsmember rolls a bucked tree trunk toward the roadway near South Lake Tahoe in August 2021. 

At the CCC’s Inland Empire Center in San Bernardino, Corpsmembers focus on fuel reduction work in Yucaipa, Keller Peak and Silverwood Lake State Park this year. The hands-on training is benefitting the local environment and local residents. A year in the CCC can also earn a Corpsmember as much as $8,000 in scholarships.

“The CCC really got me familiarized with outdoor environmental work,” Orellana said. “I really had not even thought about this kind of work before. Now, I plan to go back to college and use my CCC scholarship money to get a degree in conservation and environmental science to become a state or national park ranger.”

male corpmember in ppe uses mcleod to rake ground debris around burn pile

Inland Empire Corpsmember Christopher Orellana uses a McLeod to clear ground debris from around a burn pile in San Jacinto State Park.

The CCC is now expanding the Forestry Corps program. In addition to locations in San Bernardino, Lake Tahoe and Solano County, the recently signed state budget will add crews to the CCC Chico, Pomona, and Tahoe Centers. The additional Tahoe crew will be based out of Greenwood in El Dorado County and serve as a residential location.

“The CCC really lives up to its motto, especially the ‘And More,’” Orellana said. “Whatever you put into this, you get back tenfold. If you want to pursue a career in the environmental field, the CCC is definitely a good path to do that, make connections and discover what career path you want to follow.”