USDA focuses on wildfire prevention and reforestation at White House Tribal Youth Summit

November 7, 2023
Maui Wildfire

New Forest Corps program highlights youth summit agenda

At the White House Tribal Youth Summit, a significant announcement came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding a new initiative focused on wildfire prevention and reforestation.

The USDA in collaboration with AmeriCorps and the U.S. Forest Service unveiled the Forest Corps, a program set to engage Native American youth in crucial conservation efforts.

Starting in the summer of 2024, this program is a pioneering move under President Biden’s American Climate Corps initiative.

Empowering Native youth in natural resource management

The Forest Corps aims to recruit 80 young adults, ages 18-26, providing them with opportunities to work on projects essential to the U.S. Forest Service’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy and Reforestation Strategy.

Training and job prospects in natural resource management will be at the core of this national service opportunity, reflecting a significant push towards including Indigenous perspectives and practices in federal efforts.

In describing the Forest Corps, the USDA detailed that members will receive “a compensation package equivalent to $15 an hour, including lodging, transportation, clothing, a living allowance, health benefit, and more.”

This comprehensive support package is designed to attract and adequately compensate the young workforce that will help tackle some of the most pressing environmental challenges facing Native communities and public lands.

A broader commitment to Indigenous agricultural and educational support

This announcement comes as part of a suite of new USDA resources aimed at empowering Native American young people and was highlighted at the 2023 youth summit.

These resources are intended to encourage the exploration of Indigenous foodways, as well as to spotlight career paths within the USDA and beyond, reinforcing the USDA’s commitment to tribal self-determination.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack underlined the department’s commitment: “USDA is reimagining how we support Indigenous agriculture and tribal communities.”

This reimagining includes direct outreach to Indigenous youth with a blend of formal and informal educational opportunities.

The “Sovereignty Gardens” Children’s Educational Animated Series and the partnership with the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS) for cooking videos are part of this educational outreach, designed to promote traditional food knowledge and sovereignty.

In tandem with these educational efforts, the USDA announced the new AISES research track winners and expanded the Tribal Scholars Program, offering comprehensive tuition coverage and professional training in agriculture-related disciplines.

Supporting the use of traditional foods and practices

Additionally, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is preparing to open applications for grants to foster the use of traditional Indigenous foods in child nutrition programs.

The aim is to disseminate knowledge about procuring, preparing, and crediting Indigenous foods within various nutrition services across the country.

FSJA Comment

The USDA’s initiative to launch the Forest Corps demonstrates a forward-thinking approach to environmental stewardship and youth engagement.

By targeting wildfire prevention and reforestation with the help of Native American youth, the program is poised to create a workforce skilled in contemporary environmental techniques and grounded in cultural knowledge.

The recruitment and training of young adults in natural resource management roles reflect an investment in the future of sustainable land use and a contribution to the wider goal of a more resilient climate strategy.

Such strategic programs enhance community-based learning and create pathways for young individuals to lead impactful careers in public service, aligned with environmental and cultural values.

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