2018 Project of the Year: California Conservation Corps – Save the Sierras, Tree Mortality Program

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more.

*The California Conservation Corps Save the Sierras initiative is being recognized as the first ever 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) Project of the Year. The 21CSC is a national initiative to increase the number of young adults and recent veterans serving on public lands. The 21CSC Project of the Year represents the initiative’s vision to improve and maintain public lands and waters through public-private partnerships and the engagement of young adults in meaningful resource management projects


California is currently experiencing an unprecedented environmental disaster in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, home to a unique ecosystem that exists nowhere else.

Unhealthy forests, dramatically affected by California’s drought, were not able to defend themselves against the bark beetle, whose infestations have produced dry trees that are easy fuel for wildfires. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection estimates there are currently millions of dead and dying trees, a majority of which are concentrated in the Sierra Nevada Region. This condition has contributed to California’s wildfire epidemic, in which over 1.1 million acres have burned in 2017 alone.

The Save the Sierras project was established by the California Conservation Corps (CCC) to prevent further environmental devastation and assist underserved communities affected by the crisis. By repairing and restoring forests and natural resources, this project has made a significant impact in stopping the spread of tree mortality.

The project began in January 2017 with fifty Corpsmembers. They were trained and certified in the use of chainsaws, practical safety, flora and fauna identification, First Aid, CPR, and AmeriCorps values.

Armed with chainsaws and gumption, the participants removed thousands of diseased trees to promote a healthier forest. Why cut down trees to save a forest? A lack of management has led to overgrown forests that are dominated by small, sickly trees that compete with healthy trees for water and other resources. The path to a better future is strategic forest management.

Corpsmembers work a revolving schedule of eight 10-hour days in the field, followed by six days off for educational opportunities, volunteering, and rest. This exemplifies the service learning component of the project and its members.

In July through September 2017s, the CCC members cut down over 5,000 dead and dying trees. Before the end of the year, they will have cut down more than 15,000 trees. They have improved firebreaks, cleared trees away from structures, and increased the defensible space around countless byways. During the course of 56 spikes, Corpsmembers served a total of 47,757 hours. Additionally, 10 campgrounds have been restored and are able to be enjoyed by the public.

To make this project possible, the CCC collaborated with multiple public and private community partners, including Southern California Edison, the U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, California Volunteers, local corps, fire councils, cities and counties. The CCC strengthened its relationship with the local California-based Corps and AmeriCorps by recruiting members and sharing this experience with them.

The Save the Sierras Corpsmembers recently attended a career fair constructed especially for them and their experience. They were amazed at the range and number of opportunities available to them after their year of service. Corpsmembers were introduced to jobs with organizations ranging from regional tree service companies, to California State Parks and Southern California Edison. Representatives from these entities presented opportunities to the Corpsmembers that they were already fully qualified for as a direct result of this project.

During their year of training, Corpsmembers had the opportunity to earn their S212 wildland fire chainsaw certification and Faller 3 certification. Multiple Corpsmembers earned their high school diplomas during the project, and several others transferred to a fire crew within the CCC with the hopes of becoming firefighters. Fifteen Corpsmembers signed up for a second term allowing them to complete two years in the project. Save the Sierras combines the innovation of healthy forest management while also providing an environment wherein members can grow personally.