From Military Service to Green Service, Veterans Complete California Restoration Project

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Veterans work with Conservation Lands Foundation on restoration project in the Black Mountain Wilderness

Miguel Mejia, Biological Technician, BLM Barstow Field Office, provided project planning and guidance to the veterans conservation corps. Photo courtesy of Kyle Hamada

“We are extremely proud and grateful to work with veterans to keep these lands open and protected for future generations.” Charlotte Overby, Conservation Lands Foundation

On April 3rd, ten post-9/11 military veterans completed a two-week long restoration project in the Black Mountain Wilderness, north of Barstow, CA, as part of a unique partnership that provides jobs for veterans to restore wildlife habitat on public lands.

The all-veterans crew put up signs to mark approximately 23 miles around the wilderness boundary, installing more than a hundred route signs. They also installed and painted two new educational kiosks, closed 13 miles of illegal roads and removed nearly eight tons of trash. This work will make the area safer and more enjoyable for visitors.

Black Mountain Wilderness is part of the National Conservation Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is open to the public for hiking, camping, horseback riding and other outdoor recreation. Ranging in elevation from 2,080 to 3,941 feet at its summit, it is one of only four places in the state that is home to the endangered plant species, Lane Mountain milk-vetch (Astragalus jaegerianus), as well as to golden eagles, prairie falcons and impressive spring wildflowers.

“BLM is responsible for managing these areas for the public,” said Miguel Mejia, Biological Technician with BLM. “Partnerships like these help us accomplish a great deal of work, plus it’s inspiring to work alongside military veterans.”

The Veterans Conservation Corps worked with staff from the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Barstow Field Office on a range of outdoor projects, including planting native shrubs, restoring trails, posting new signs that help educate visitors about wilderness and commemorating veterans role in helping restore and protect it. In return, the veterans received pay, job skills, mentoring by BLM staff, AmeriCorps education awards, and additional training that can help them transition into permanent positions with land management agencies.

“I grew up in Anza Borrego. I served two years in the Army. Growing up in the desert, I love being outside. I’d like to work as a ranger, here or in a national park,” said Karla Rubio, a member of the veteran conservation corps. “Working with the corps exposes us to a lot of different options for future jobs. In a couple of weeks, the crew is going for fire training, and a lot of them are interested in fire fighting as a career.”

The crew also trained for a day with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to learn desert habitat restoration techniques. On March 28, fifteen college students enrolled in an Environmental Policy and Science class at California State University, Long Beach came out to volunteer with the Veterans Conservation Corps.

Part of a unique partnership that provides jobs for veterans to restore wildlife habitat on public lands, the work was funded by a $35,000 from Edison International in support of the Conservation Lands Foundation’s ongoing Veterans-Youth Conservation Corps Partnership, launched in 2012.

“We’re grateful for the funding provided by Edison International because it has created a powerful partnership,” said Charlotte Overby of the Conservation Lands Foundation. “It provides jobs for veterans, assists the BLM, and accomplishes some much-needed restoration work on a beautiful wilderness area. It results in real benefits for the public, who come to recreate and explore the desert.”

In California, the National Conservation Lands include nearly five million acres made up of national monuments, national conservation areas, wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers and national scenic and historic trails.

“The National Conservation Lands are our public lands here for the public to use and enjoy,” said Overby. “We are extremely proud and grateful to work with veterans to keep these lands open and protected for future generations.”

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Meghan Kissell
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