Eytan Krasilovsky is the southwest region director of the Forest Stewards Guild. His recent OpEd in the Taos News explains the value youth can bring to forest health – and vice versa. The Taos Ski Valley Foundation is proud to support this work. 

New Mexico’s beautiful mountains, mesas, forests and streams inspire all of us who live, work and play here.

Fortunately, all Americans are blessed with access to these landscapes through our network of national forests. These landscapes are the sources of much of our water, are the places where we recreate, support wildlife, birds, and fish, and provide us with solitude. These landscapes also need our care, support, and stewardship, and our youth and young adults from around the state are ideally suited to this important task.

For over 20 years, in partnership with the U. S. Forest Service and our local national forests, the New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps Commission and the National Forest Foundation, the Forest Stewards Guild has employed youth in a summer training program: the Forest Stewards Youth Corps. High school-aged youths work, sometimes on hot and dry days and sometimes on cold and wet days, on high-priority conservation projects that improve trails and campgrounds, protect endangered species habitat and native plants, and prepare areas for forest restoration. This summer 35 youth worked on six crews on the Cibola and Santa Fe National Forests.

Collectively they accomplished an amazing amount of work. This summer they improved over 25 miles of trails, repaired or built over 50 miles of trails, improved over 20 campgrounds, constructed over 5 miles of fire line, and cleared over 90 acres of weeds. More important, however, the program invested in the future by providing crew members with college credits and delivering over 2,000 hours of training.

Over the years more than 500 New Mexican youth have been employed and trained in the youth corps. Many of these young adults have continued to hone their professionalism in specific college disciplines, leading to successful and meaningful careers in natural resources management.

The corps’ ability to train and deploy these budding conservationists to key areas of need in our national forests represents over $6 million invested in New Mexico, over 200,000 hours of work completed on public lands, thousands of acres improved, hundreds of miles of trails maintained, and hundreds of miles of fence built or maintained.

This year is another important year for the FSYC. Thanks in part to the generous support of groups, such as teh Taos Ski Valley Foundation, founded by conservation philanthropist and Taos Ski Valley owner Louis Bacon, we are expanding to include a fall season that will employ 16 young adults aged 18-25.

The crews will work in the Mountainair and Española Ranger Districts and will be trained as wildland firefighters to assist the local national forests in the important work of restoring low-intensity fire to frequent fire ecosystems. This work also improves wildlife habitat and watershed conditions. These young adults will leave the fall FSYC season with training certificates and valuable experience to apply for jobs in wildland fire.

So get out there and enjoy our public lands. If you run into a crew of young adults working on the trails or conducting forest restoration efforts on our national forest, please tell them hello and thank them for helping to improve the landscapes and watersheds we all enjoy and rely upon.

For more information visit forestguild.org/fsyc or contact the Forest Stewards Guild at (505) 983-8992.

Eytan Krasilovsky is the southwest region director of the Forest Stewards Guild.

First published by the Taos News.