After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, organizations from across the Gulf of Mexico were searching for ways to restore the area’s ecology, revive the economy and heal the connection between residents and their natural resources. The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with the Student Conservation Association and The Corps Network, developed the Gulf Corps program to employ young adults in each of the five states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico.
In their first year, crews worked on wetland and stream revegetation, oyster reef restoration, and habitat and water quality assessments, along with many other conservation and land management activities. In the second year, Gulf Corps sought to provide chainsaw and basic firefighting certifications to their members through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG). These certificates furthered crew capabilities by allowing members to use chainsaws and support prescribed fire operations with their partner agencies across the south. They also set corps members up for future employment, as NWCG certifications are recognized as the nationwide standard training for wildland firefighting.
Like Gulf Corps, Dave Lasky (the Guild’s Director of Fire Management), has been working to build an inclusive fire program at the Guild that provides youth with employment and training in fire management and boosts prescribed fire capacity. This overlap in mission and the expertise of Guild staff in training diverse audiences made this a clear opportunity to collaborate and support restoration on a nationwide scale.
In winter 2018 five Guild staff traveled to Mississippi to conduct two-week long chainsaw trainings and a week-long basic fire fighter training. Larger than normal class sizes and uncooperative weather made these classes challenging to implement at the high standards that are necessary for these extremely high-risk jobs. However, enthusiastic support of the local DeSoto National Forest staff and the Boy Scout Camp Tiak, where the training was held, made the it a great success. Gulf Corps crew members got ample “trigger time” on their chainsaws with expert instruction from Guild, TNC, and Forest Service staff, and Guild staff were able to complete a small prescribed burn in a recently cleared longleaf pine stand on Camp Tiak property.
The week of training paid off as corps members completed prep work for the burn and then were able hold the fire line and light the unit.
These classes provided Gulf Corps members with knowledge and confidence to safely wield chainsaws and work on the fire line. This is exactly the work that the Guild actively supports with our own Gravitas Peak Wildland Fire Module and Forest Stewards Youth Corps programs in the southern Rockies, so it was a pleasure for Guild staff to train youth corps crews in the south where there is equally important restoration to be done and need for good fire to get back on the ground.
Written by Sam Berry. Thank you to Sam Berry and Limitless Vistas for the photos in this article.