Agnes Mukagasana, an eager, next-generation youth involved in conservation, paused for a moment to adjust her hat in the afternoon Colorado sun and assess her well-honed tree-planting technique.
She learned her skills as an employee of Groundwork Denver, an organization dedicated to the sustained improvement of the physical environment through community-based partnerships including federal land management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service.
Mukagasana and other area youth recently took part in a ceremony where the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior joined representatives of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and several other partners at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. The ceremony announced $6.7 million in joint USDA, Department of Interior and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grants to support conservation employment and mentoring opportunities for youth on public lands around the country as part of the President’s 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) Initiative.
Groundwork Denver leverages the funding through their Urban Youth Conservation Career Ladder Program to provide low-income, urban youth with natural resource education, training and mentorship, as well as hands-on conservation and restoration work experience.
Mukagasana demonstrated her work with Dan Jirón, the regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region and Erin Connelly, forest supervisor of the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands. They spent more than an hour together at the refuge planting willows to reestablish a wetlands habitat while also exchanging information about their work.
Mukagasana will work on the Pike National Forest this summer as part of the 21CSC through Groundwork Denver. The forest recently experienced catastrophic fire and flood events, requiring rehabilitation work and the hands of those eager to help with restoration efforts.
“We are excited to partner with Groundwork Denver to accomplish some much-needed restoration and rehabilitation on the forest,” said Connelly. “Just as important, however, is that we get to provide an opportunity for vocational enrichment and environmental stewardship to young people. These kinds of opportunities are a powerful way to connect youth to their public lands.”
The grants will support 43 new projects on public lands, resulting in paid conservation work experience for more than 620 youth. The projects will also support nearly 1,550 volunteers on public lands across the country.
“The USDA is committed to providing youth and veterans meaningful work opportunities that connect them with public lands, and accomplish great projects at the same time,” said Arthur “Butch” Blazer, deputy undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment at USDA. “By cultivating a life-long connection to nature, the USDA hopes to successfully engage the next generation of conservation stewards. However, sustaining this effort cannot be accomplished alone; it must be done with a diverse group of partners and other agencies who are committed to creating that lasting connection between youth and nature.”
Makalah Emanuel, also of Groundwork Denver, spoke at the event about her experience working on public lands. “I have used every single thing I have learned. I have had experiences like trail building and I have applied this to real-life things like dedicating time to college applications and school. The work we do today and the work we will do in the future, it has a purpose,” said Emanuel.
Soon, Makalah, Agnes, and 18 of their peers will start local projects supported by this initiative. They will work on projects both at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and on the Pike National Forest. They will work to improve bison and prairie dog habitat, reseed plants and trees, remove invasive plants and restore riparian and habitat.