Sunday, January 21, 2018
Standing on Mobile Bay shorelines, tromping through coastal forests, taking in classroom sessions, the first recruits in an ambitious new Gulf Coast conservation campaign recently had a double-pronged message about their mission impressed upon them.
“You guys are on the cutting edge of something fantastic,” said Buck Sutter, Deputy Executive Director and Program Director for the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. “You guys really are at the end of the spear.”
It’s called GulfCorps, and Program Director Jeff DeQuattro sometimes compares it to the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. But where that program embodied its time - created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and funded with federal dollars to counteract Great Depression unemployment - GulfCorps is designed to answer the needs of the present.
It’s funded by a $7 million grant of RESTORE Act funds - money that originated in penalties from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster - administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Overseen by The Nature Conservancy, working in conjunction with the Student Conservation Association and the Corps Network, it will organize what DeQuattro describes as “small tactical teams” of workers and mobilize them across five states: Alabama plus Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
Sample assignments coming up in Alabama include pitcher plant bog restoration, clearing forests for prescribed fires that will improve their long-term health, removing invasive plants and snails from bays and waterways and mapping intertidal oyster reefs. GulfCorps, unlike the CCC, isn’t just meant to put tools in people’s hands and put them to work for a while. It’s meant to teach soft skills they can use to find jobs and build careers in the future.
“Our goal is to get 300 people with job-marketable skills,” DeQuattro said.