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SAN LUIS NWRC: Youth Conservation Corps Provides Training for Students and Benefits for Wildlife
California-Nevada Offices , August 10, 2012
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The 2012 San Luis NWRC YCC crew in front of the Visitor Center.
The 2012 San Luis NWRC YCC crew in front of the Visitor Center. - Photo Credit: USFWS
San Luis NWRC YCC crew working with refuge staff to construct a split-rail fence at a new nature trailhead parking area at the Merced NWR.
San Luis NWRC YCC crew working with refuge staff to construct a split-rail fence at a new nature trailhead parking area at the Merced NWR. - Photo Credit: USFWS
San Luis NWRC YCC crew members preparing waterfowl hunt blinds for the upcoming hunting season.
San Luis NWRC YCC crew members preparing waterfowl hunt blinds for the upcoming hunting season. - Photo Credit: USFWS
San Luis NWRC YCC Crew tending to vegetation on the Visitor Center grounds.
San Luis NWRC YCC Crew tending to vegetation on the Visitor Center grounds. - Photo Credit: USFWS

By Madeline Yancey, San Luis NWRC

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. Service in the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) at National Wildlife Refuges provides those kinds of opportunities.

YCC is a “work-learn-earn” program that provides gainful summer employment in an outdoor environment for young men and women, who are U.S. citizens, between the ages of 15 and 18 from all social, economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. 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.

YCC began as a pilot program in the early 1970s, becoming a permanent one in 1974, administered by multiple public agencies – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Los Banos, California has been sponsoring a YCC crew annually since 2006. Crews have ranged in size from 6 to 14. This year’s crew employed 12 young people from the local community. Their tasks have been varied but the completion of each one contributed to the development and maintenance of the refuge’s wildlife and habitat resources. The crew’s work teaches its members the need and responsibility of maintaining and managing those resources for future generations of Americans – and may even spark an interest in a career in wildlife conservation as well.

Maintenance and upkeep are part of any land management and this year’s YCC crew at San Luis accomplished its fair share. Crew members prepped and painted refuge buildings, painted gates, cleaned and prepped blinds for the upcoming waterfowl hunting season, trimmed vegetation along nature trails, and built a new split-rail fence for the parking lot of a new nature trail. Projects like these are vital to the day-to-day management of a wildlife refuge and its visitors’ programs, but crew members have also had the opportunity to contribute to the primary mission of the refuge – the protection and conservation of the wildlife and the habitats on which it depends.

After setting out a circuit of remote cameras and later examining the captured images, the YCC crew, along with refuge biologists, witnessed evidence that the refuge’s population of re-introduced black-tail deer is growing. They also conducted a survey of the resident tule elk herd, collecting data on its size and composition. Crew members conducted vegetation mapping by monitoring transects established on multiple refuge units and collected data that biologists will use to evaluate whether or not treatments have been effective for controlling target exotic plant species like salt cedar. Their mapping data also helps biologist document native vegetation patterns. Crew members also assisted refuge fire personnel with fuels monitoring by collecting vegetation, then drying and weighing it to acquire biomass measurements. They also got down and dirty with Russian knapweed, engaging in the “hand-removal” technique of exotic species control. The observations made and data collected by the YCC crew are integral to the work of refuge managers and will drive their management practices for years to come as they strive to maintain and restore critical wildlife habitat.

The experiences shared by the members of San Luis’s YCC crew reflect just one side of a valuable coin. Refuge staff members benefit as well, from the young people’s presence for eight weeks every summer. The crew members’ enthusiasm, curiosity, and energy revitalizes refuge personnel and sometimes triggers memories of what led them to careers in conservation.

In addition to performing vital work contributing to wildlife and habitat conservation, this year’s YCC crew at San Luis NWRC has had the opportunity to develop self-discipline and work ethics, learn how to relate to supervisors and peers, and build lasting bonds with youth from other backgrounds. Hopefully, these young people have also begun to develop an appreciation of the Earth; and a humble understanding of their role in the environment and their relationship to the wildlife residing there.


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



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