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The Time for Green Jobs is Now

It seems like the world has gone topsy-turvy since I published my last blog, An Environmental Restoration Workforce for the Future, on March 11. With everything that has happened, I feel that now, more than ever, is the time to build a 21st century Green Jobs movement. I’ve been thinking a lot about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) launched after the Great Depression. That public relief program put 3,000,000 young men to work over nine years on projects related to forestry, erosion control, flood control, infrastructure, wildlife, and more. With the coronavirus, a crumbling economy, an uncertain future and a need to get people safely back to work, why not invest in green jobs where individuals can work out in open air at safe distances to do all manner of work that will help our degraded ecosystems?

Below are series of parallel photographs of our crews and the CCC crews (CCC images from Wikipedia). The similarities and differences are both striking.

The CCC did work on drainage systems including irrigation, drainage, dams, ditching and channel work. These days, we have extensive and required stormwater management systems that need installation, maintenance, repairs and upgrades. Local governments had already struggled with how to meet their stormwater permit requirements pre-COVID. Post-COVID, can we put people to work and meet the requirements at the same time? Of course we can. Howard County, MD, is a proud model for this.

While the CCC managed forests and likely dealt with some invasive species, it was not of the order of magnitude that we are now facing. The rate of change and impact from invasive species that we are seeing now exceeds anything that has been seen in the past because our global movements and activities have provided ample opportunity for species to spread. Of greatest concern to me are invasive vines that strangle and weaken existing trees and forests – think of that 10, 20, 30+ year investment in solar and carbon resources that succumbs to death by English ivy, bittersweet, honeysuckle or any of the other countless vines. We have ample opportunity to spread people out in our forests and protect our existing natural resources.

One of my past blogs focused extensively on Ellicott City, debris management, workforce development and a call for re-thinking watershed restoration in the age of climate change. We have plenty of work to do in the stream channels and we can focus not just on debris but on bank erosion and stream buffers and using live stakes, fascines, brush bundles and other techniques that crews can implement by hand. Some of these techniques are shown in this document produced by the Army Corps of Engineers.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the need for reforestation and tree planting. Of course we have lost many trees to development since the time of the CCC. Our fastest growing land cover in the Chesapeake Bay is turf grass, which is sad, because turf grass carries so much stigma and societal significance yet has pretty much no ecosystem benefit. These areas can not only be trees and gardens, they can also produce food. With the coronavirus, we are all experiencing the potential or the reality of food insecurity, and hopefully we are also seeing the benefits of local food systems. For EcoWorks part, we are focused in 2020 on planting chestnut trees as a perennial agricultural crop - these are being installed in contour swale systems so that rainwater can be slowed and passively harvested to be delivered to the trees (a future blog to come on this).

Images are being shared in the media that show a bit of recovery here and there for the Earth - less smog, better air quality, animal movement in areas where one typically wouldn't see them. We don't know how long this will last. Will we be getting back to business as usual, including the environmental crisis? I'm hoping that we can open our minds to the possibility that we can use the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to provide safe and meaningful green jobs to even just a portion of the 20 million people that are currently unemployed. What do you think?

Stay safe and be well.

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