Leaders of eight federal departments and agencies have announced that they have signed an agreement setting up a national council to guide implementation of the Obama Administration’s 21stCentury Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) -- a national collaborative effort to put America’s youth and returning veterans to work protecting, restoring and enhancing America’s great outdoors.

By signing the Memorandum of Understanding finalized today, the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor, as well as the EPA Administrator, Chair of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service and Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) established the National Council for the 21CSC -- fully implementing the first recommendation of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative introduced by President Obama in 2010.

“The President’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative is helping to connect Americans from all backgrounds with the recreational, economic and health benefits of our nation’s extraordinary natural resources,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  “The 21st Century Conservation Service Corpswill help prepare the leaders of the future by providing youth with valuable opportunities for recreation, career development and service to their community and their nation.”

“Building on the legacy of President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression in the 1930s, the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps will help build and train a workforce who fully represent the diversity of America while creating the next generation of environmental stewards and improving the condition of our public lands,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

The 21CSC focuses on helping young people -- including diverse low-income, underserved and at-risk youth, as well as returning veterans -- gain valuable training and work experience while accomplishing needed conservation and restoration work on public lands, waterways and cultural heritage sites. It builds on existing partnerships with youth conservation corps across the country to engage thousands of young Americans in hands-on service and job training experiences on public lands and community green spaces.

“By coordinating resources across the federal family and working with partners, the 21CSC will accomplish important restoration work, provide more job and training opportunities to a diverse group of young Americans, expand educational opportunities for youth, and create meaningful pathways to careers -- all while reconnecting America’s youth with the great outdoors,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

“This is a great example of how innovative partnerships are utilizing government resources more efficiently and effectively,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “The Labor Department is committed to working with our partners to provide young people -- especially those from underserved communities -- with exposure to a wide variety of in-demand jobs and valuable training opportunities that can form the foundation of lifelong careers.”

"Our federal lands and waters are vital to the health and well-being of Americans,” added Jo Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), who oversees the Corps of Engineers. “The 21CSC will expand the Corps’ capacities to conserve and maintain these areas, and provide youth and veterans with meaningful work, education and exposure to the outdoors."

The program expands ongoing efforts of the Obama administration to increase job opportunities for young people. For example, over the past four years, the Department of the Interior has dramatically increased the number of young people the department engages, educates and employs: youth employment has increased by 35 percent since the beginning of the Obama administration, with an average of 20,000 young people employed per year.

The USDA Forest Service’s focus on expanding youth engagement opportunities resulted in an investment of more than $18 million in FY 2012 on programs and partnerships that provided volunteer, service and employment opportunities on national forests and grasslands for nearly 10,000 young people.

The Department of Commerce has employed returning veterans in conjunction with the California Conservation Corps. “21CSC is an important resource for helping put our youth back to work while promoting environmental stewardship,” said Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank. “And at the same time, it’s a critical opportunity to focus on making certain our veterans have access to quality jobs. We here at Commerce plan to use 21CSC to expand NOAA’s existing habitat conservation programs to provide technical training to veterans and youth so they can develop expertise in the conservation sector.”

The Corporation for National and Community Service has extensive experience engaging youth in results-driven service. “As we see every day in AmeriCorps, young people bring extraordinary energy, passion, and talent to public service,” said CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer. “This partnership is a win all-around: it expands opportunity for young people, taps the leadership skills of veterans, improves our public lands, and puts a new generation on a lifelong path of service.” 

21CSC members and their contributions range from youth corps members helping run shelters and restore parks and beaches in New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to youth and veterans building trails and leading interpretation programs in remote national parks, forests and coastal habitats. 

“The 21CSC program is a great example of how collaboration -- not only across federal agencies, but also among others in the private and public sectors -- can bring about economic, environmental and health benefits for those who need it the most: our youth and our returning heroes,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “America is home to some of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in the world. The 21CSC will not only help our young people feel more of a connection to those spaces, but it will also ensure our treasured outdoors are preserved for generations to come.”

Creating the National Council was a key recommendation from the Federal Advisory Committee in support of outdoor youth engagement announced by Secretaries Salazar and Vilsack in December 2011. Composed of representatives of the nation’s conservation, service and workforce development groups, along with representatives from federal agencies, this committee was charged with advising the federal agencies on how to build on the important ongoing work of local, state, federal and non-profit youth conservation corps. Within their six-month deadline, the committee provided Salazar and Vilsack with guidance on a framework for the Conservation Service Corps’ vision, principles and strategies.

The National Council will work across the federal government to support the 21CSC by enhancing partnerships with existing youth corps programs around the nation; stimulating existing and new public-private partnerships; and aligning the investment of current federal government resources.

Members will be represented on the National Council by members of the senior leadership of each agency, bureau or office. The National Council will initially be co-chaired by representatives from the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, for a one-year term, after which the two co-chair positions will be chosen from among the National Council members by consensus.

For a copy of the MOU, see here.

For additional information on the 21CSC, see here.