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When the Waldo Canyon fire hit Colorado Springs in 2012, burning 18,000 acres, killing two people and destroying 347 homes, they called it “a perfect storm.” Then the Black Forest fire of 2013 wiped out 14,280 acres, killed two people and leveled 489 homes and — what do you know — that was “a perfect storm” too. When three of the largest wildfires in Colorado’s history burned in 2020 — perfect storm.

Seeding the perfect storms: extended drought and extreme heat due to climate change, high winds, mountain pine beetle infestation, and a buildup of dry forest fuel. 

There’s a way to end the parade of perfect storms, and to address urgent workforce and infrastructure issues at the same time. It’s called the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps.

The Indy editorial board advocated for a Civilian Conservation Corps back in August 2020, but it was never going to happen under Trump, who infamously (and endlessly) denied climate change, threatened to yank federal funding from California as wildfires raged across the state, and claimed wildfires wouldn’t be a problem if everyone would just rake the forests.

Colorado Congressman and Chairman of the Public Lands Subcommittee Joe Neguse has a more useful plan. In April, he led bicameral legislation to create a national workforce for forest inventory and monitoring, reforestation, watershed mitigation, biodiversity efforts, trail maintenance and — most pressingly — climate change and wildfire resiliency. President Joe Biden, who has prioritized addressing the climate crisis, included Neguse’s proposal for a $10 billion fund to create the corps in his American Jobs Plan, released March 31.

Neguse’s plan was inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s highly successful Civilian Conservation Corps — a precursor to AmeriCorps — created in 1933 as part of the New Deal. Roosevelt’s program employed more than 3 million men on conservation and infrastructure projects nationwide, in an effort to jumpstart the U.S. economy after the Great Depression.

In an op-ed for The Colorado Sun, Neguse and Sen. Ron Wyden said the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps would provide “much needed stimulus” and “establish a strong, vital workforce on public lands with jobs that take on even greater importance as the COVID-19 health crisis continues to pummel the economy.”

The legislation puts $9 billion toward the land and conservation corps to provide jobs in a time of need, boost training and hire specifically for jobs in forests. But it also provides $3.5 billion for reforestation projects, with over 100 million trees to be planted in urban areas across America by 2030; $3.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service and $2 billion for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for science-based projects to improve forest health and cut wildfire risk; $2 billion for economic relief for outfitters and guides with special use permits; $2 billion to the National Fire Capacity program to prevent and respond to wildfire around homes and businesses; $2 billion for the FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program; and $500 million for Tribal drinking water infrastructure repairs.

Under the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps legislation, “Forests would be more resilient and federal land managers would have the resources to reduce wildfire risk. Neighborhoods would have safer homes and businesses, and cleaner air and water. Rural communities would have more jobs,” Neguse and Wyden wrote. “The severity of wildfires in the West requires an equally historic investment in our forest health.”

Their plan already has the endorsement of the Corps Network, the National Wildlife Federation, Voices for National Service, and the National Audubon Society. It deserves our support too.