Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation collaborates to promote forestry careers

Submitted to the Sun
Chris Dias, technologies advisor Forestry Challenge, with Stacy Caldwell, CEO of Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation at the Forest Future: Careers Among the Trees Exhibit at the California State Fair.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — As California faces an ongoing threat of wildfires, the California Forest Foundation, the California Forestry Association and the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation have joined forces to promote forest and fire-related careers to ensure the availability of workers throughout the state, and advance the pace and scale of forest management and fire mitigation. 

The initiative was announced at the California State Fair where the Forest Futures: Careers Among the Trees exhibit highlighted a wide range of career opportunities in forest management and fire mitigation available to people of all ages, interests and backgrounds.

The need for more workers around fire prevention, education and mitigation is urgent. In 2021, over 2.5 million acres of California land burned, and 150 million trees died. The region has become a tinderbox due to drought, a bark beetle infestation that killed more than 16 million trees, and forest overcrowding that drains vital water out of the ecosystem and covers the forest floor with flammable fuel. 

Simultaneously, the rural economies in the region have lost the economic engines that ensure basic infrastructure to manage forests, including saw and paper mills, and woody biomass processing facilities.

Workforce development is key to California’s ability to mitigate damage from wildfires as employers struggle with staffing shortages amid a hyper-competitive labor market and an unprecedented transition in how forests are managed. The new initiative engages a diverse network of organizations, including community colleges, nonprofit agencies, and trade organizations offering training programs, certification, internships, fellowships and degrees to grow the available workforce for forest related careers.

“Our forests and communities are in crisis and we can’t meet the scale of the wildfire crisis without growing our forest workforce,” says Jessica Morse, deputy secretary for forest and wildland resilience, California Natural Resources Agency. “These green jobs are an exciting opportunity for young people to have an immediate impact on public safety as well as a legacy impact by establishing strong resilient forests for future generations.”

“There’s so much to be done, but we don’t have enough people to do the work,” said Stacy Caldwell, CEO of TTCF. “Our goal is to build awareness of career pathways, and educate people about the wide range of employment opportunities available in forest management and fire mitigation. We felt the state fair was the perfect place to launch this initiative, and invite people to consider these important, meaningful careers.”

The state-wide collaboration is the latest initiative under the umbrella of TTCF’s three-year, $30 million Forest Futures Campaign, a comprehensive playbook that can be replicated by other communities to align local organizations around minimizing the risk of extreme wildfires through better preparation, investment in forest health and infrastructure, and diversification of local economies.

“Today there are thousands of jobs available in forestry and dozens of ways to be a part of this important work,” said Mark Luster, board member of the California Forest Foundation. “Certified foresters, environmental scientists, equipment technicians, hand crews are all needed. If you want to work outside all day, or if you prefer working behind a desk, there are jobs. We hope that by featuring the organizations that are offering the training, we can entice more people to consider this career pathway.”

The 1,800-square foot Forest Futures exhibit at the fair offers visitors the opportunity to find out about programs offered by community colleges, nonprofits and trade organizations. It also features equipment used in forest management, a video display of careers in the forest and recruiters from different programs who can share details about their programs and career pathways.

“From Shasta College’s large equipment maintenance program to the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program’s efforts to connect formerly incarcerated individuals to firefighting careers to CalPoly Humboldt State University’s forestry program to the Lake Tahoe Community College’s Fire Academy, the quantity and quality of resources available to individuals interested in pursuing careers in the forestry and fire-related space are significant,” said Matt Dias, President/CEO of the California Forestry Association.

TTCF’s Forest Futures campaign is funding forest management projects that protect the community and build infrastructure. Its grants for workforce development have provided funding to The Great Basin Institute to support housing costs and scientific field equipment for forestry crews; to The Lake Tahoe Community College Forestry and Fire Programs to fund the purchase of field equipment and fund scholarships; to The Sierra Institute for its Youth Corps Program and Long-Term Career Development; and to provide funding for The Sierra Nevada Alliance’s Mid-Level Forestry Workforce Development Program.

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