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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

SAN LUIS NWR: YCC Crew Works as a Partner in Conservation at the San Luis NWR Complex

Region 8, November 12, 2013
San Luis NWRC YCC crewmembers are trained by Wildlife Biologist Kate Guerena on the vegetation mapping protocol.
San Luis NWRC YCC crewmembers are trained by Wildlife Biologist Kate Guerena on the vegetation mapping protocol. - Photo Credit: n/a
San Luis NWRC YCC enrollee conducting vegetation mapping at the San Luis NWR.  This summer, crew members travelled 943 (100-meter) transects, walking a total distance of 58 miles.
San Luis NWRC YCC enrollee conducting vegetation mapping at the San Luis NWR. This summer, crew members travelled 943 (100-meter) transects, walking a total distance of 58 miles. - Photo Credit: n/a
Assistant Refuge Manager Eric Hopson gives YCC enrollees a tour of the San Joaquin River NWR and discusses large-scale habitat restoration projects on the Refuge.
Assistant Refuge Manager Eric Hopson gives YCC enrollees a tour of the San Joaquin River NWR and discusses large-scale habitat restoration projects on the Refuge. - Photo Credit: n/a
San Luis NWRC YCC enrollees prepare waterfowl hunting blinds on the San Luis NWR for use by sportsmen.  The students typically encounter (and set free) many critters in the blinds including spiders, lizards, snakes, and rodents.
San Luis NWRC YCC enrollees prepare waterfowl hunting blinds on the San Luis NWR for use by sportsmen. The students typically encounter (and set free) many critters in the blinds including spiders, lizards, snakes, and rodents. - Photo Credit: n/a
San Luis NWRC YCC students help maintain a nature trail by trimming overgrown vegetation at the San Joaquin River NWR.
San Luis NWRC YCC students help maintain a nature trail by trimming overgrown vegetation at the San Joaquin River NWR. - Photo Credit: n/a
Group photo of the 2013 San Luis NWRC YCC crew.
Group photo of the 2013 San Luis NWRC YCC crew. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Madeline Yancey 

The Youth Conservation Corp (YCC) is one of many conservation corp programs descended from the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) authorized by the Emergency Conservation Work Act of 1933. The CCC was the most popular of the “New Deal” programs started by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Two of President Roosevelt’s passionate interests were conservation and providing opportunities for universal service for young people. His CCC program was intended to put the nation’s unemployed young men to work and to focus their efforts on environmental conservation; at a time when the country was dealing with record unemployment during the Great Depression and the ravages of the “Dust Bowl” – what has been described as the worst human-caused ecological disaster in American history.

The young men serving in the CCC accomplished monumental and sorely-needed conservation work. Today, veterans of the CCC program are among the strongest advocates for youth and the environment.

To spark a young person’s sense of awareness and consciousness of wild things and places often requires the opportunity to engage with nature hands-on and in person in programs like the CCC. Service in today’s Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) at National Wildlife Refuges provides those kinds of opportunities.

Like the CCC of the 1930s, today’s YCC (begun as a pilot program in the 1970s) provides employment opportunities for an under-employed segment of our society – its youth. In a “work-learn-earn” program, young men and women who are U.S. citizens between the ages of 15 and 18, from all social, economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds are gainfully employed during the summer in an outdoor environment. These young people work together accomplishing needed conservation tasks on public lands while learning to comprehend and appreciate the natural environment and this country’s precious resources.

The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex (Merced NWR, San Joaquin River NWR, San Luis NWR, and the Grasslands Wildlife Management Area) has sponsored a Youth Conservation Corp (YCC) crew annually since 2006. This year was no exception. Eleven youth from three local high schools worked 40-hour weeks for eight weeks this summer completing tasks that contributed to the management and conservation of the Complex’s wildlife and habitat resources. Like their CCC counterparts 80 years ago, this year’s YCC crew members performed meaningful conservation work while contributing to the economic well-being of themselves and their families.

The task list at the refuge complex for the YCC crew each summer is quite varied, but this year’s work was more focused, concentrating on vegetation monitoring throughout several units of the Complex – the Lonetree unit of the Merced NWR which contains important uplands that are part of the historic habitat corridor for the San Joaquin kit fox, the elk enclosure on the San Luis NWR that supports the refuge’s herd of tule elk, and the East Bear Creek unit of the San Luis NWR containing floodplain wetland habitat recently reclaimed and restored after decades of agricultural use. The vegetation monitoring work performed by the YCC crew members this year made them an important link in the refuge complex’s resource management program.

The work by the YCC crew this summer builds on the work of previous crews. In most years prior, the YCC crews surveyed nearly all the same sites. Their combined efforts have produced a valuable product – a robust, long-term set of data that the Refuge Complex will use to guide future actions taken to combat the spread of invasive exotic plant species, and improve wetlands and grasslands for wildlife. The YCC crew began its work with an intensive three-hours of classroom instruction that included presentations, plant specimens, and hands-on activities in the field to teach everyone how to identify plant species of the Central Valley. Refuge Complex staff said it was valuable having young “scientists” who were able to pick up on plant identification so quickly, and were also able to adapt to working in different habitats.

In the field, the YCC crew recorded all plant species along their transects, but they were particularly looking for exotic species, such as yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis), perennial pepperweed (Lepidium latifolium), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), and Russian thistle (Salsola tragus), as well as exotic grasses like ripgut brome (Bromus diandrus), and mouse and hare barley (Hordeum spp.). The data collected will enable Refuge Complex staff to ascertain the frequency and abundance of vegetation species in upland and wetland plant communities. Staff can then determine if the management actions applied to the habitat resulted in changes to the plant species populations. More importantly, that knowledge will also inform future habitat management decisions.

All of the monitoring conducted by the YCC crew this summer supports ongoing studies by Refuge Complex staff including upland vegetation mapping of the tule elk enclosure, the Lonetree unit, and the East Bear Creek unit; fire fuel load monitoring at various locations; vegetation re-growth mapping of a wildfire burn; and the wetland vegetation monitoring of every seasonal wetland unit of the San Luis and Merced NWRs (128 units in all) which support hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds.

While completing their vegetation monitoring tasks this year, YCC crew members travelled 943 (100-meter) transects, walking a total distance of 58 miles. They spent hundreds of hours in the field sweating through the hot summer sun of California’s Central Valley where temperatures regularly reach or exceed 100 degrees. Crew members started every day with a smile and a can-do attitude. As they headed home at the end of each day, they looked a little limp and a little dusty. They had foxtails stuck in their socks and stems in their collars – but they were still smiling. Refuge Complex staff working with the youth said, “they had such enthusiasm and they always gave it their best effort, and that’s important when it comes to trusting the data resulting from their work.”

The 2013 YCC crew left its mark on the San Luis NWR Complex this summer. The San Luis Refuge Complex will use their data to improve the habitat for a diversity of wildlife. Eleven high school students have contributed to the conservation efforts of the Service this summer – they have made a difference.

Madeline Yancey is a Pathways Student Trainee at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Los Banos, California.

Contact Info: Jack Sparks, 209-826-3508, jack_sparks@fws.gov