Conservation Wins: Past, Present, and Future

By Cecilia Aleman

It’s not often that legislation affecting conservation and young Americans is signed into law. So when one of the most pivotal conservation bills in nearly 50 years crosses the finish line – it calls for a celebration.

The recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, a bipartisan bill providing critical funding to our national parks, demonstrates a collective understanding of why we must preserve our natural spaces for future generations.

In the wake of this achievement, we wanted to look back on other significant legislative milestones that have played a role in protecting public lands and providing avenues for young people to serve them.

1. Youth Conservation Corps

After visiting a Student Conservation Association crew at Olympic National Park in 1969, an inspired Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson introduced the idea of a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) to Congress. Working with fellow Senator Warren G. Magnuson, and with the support of SCA’s very own Liz Putnam, the legislation established a federal youth employment program on public lands.

2. AmeriCorps

One of SCA’s largest partners, AmeriCorps was created through the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, as was the Corporation for National and Community Service. The bill was signed into law in September 1993 by President Bill Clinton resulting in countless service opportunities for young people across the country.

3. Public Land Corps Act of 1993

1993 was a good year for legislation as the Public Land Corps Act was also signed. It focused on youth education programs as part of a collaboration between service corps and land management agencies. An amended piece of legislation known as the Public Lands Service Corps Act (PLSC) included expanded service opportunities for veterans and training for the next generation of conservation leaders.

4. National Park Service Centennial Act

When the National Park Service reached the ripe old age of 100, the National Park Service Centennial Act was introduced in the hopes of garnering more funding to protect the parks and amplify volunteer opportunities for the next century. The legislation was passed in December 2016 and signed into law by President Barack Obama, and scores of SCA members served as National Park Centennial Ambassadors.

But it doesn’t stop here. Today many are calling for a modern Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as we navigate a new world grappling with a global pandemic and the resulting economic challenges including surging youth unemployment. Along with several other bills in the pipeline, the Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service Act (the CORPS Act) proposes expanding national youth service programs.

Legislation like the Great American Outdoors Act and its predecessors can serve as catalysts to further conservation efforts and hands-on service opportunities for young people. With each passage, protecting our planet is ensured as a top priority for years to come.