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Care happens over generations

I recently stood on the White Rabbit Trail in the Ashland Watershed on a sunny day reviewing the work of the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project. I traveled up the hillsides and looked at the forest below — the many hands and good intentions behind a decade of this work is apparent. Ten thousand acres accomplished to date. Seven different organizations gathered on this day to present the work to U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Glenn Casamassa, Rogue River-Siskiyou Forest Supervisor Merv George, Mayor John Stromberg and our great team of partners.

We credited all of our partners including the many young ecosystem restoration workers who worked with mentors to make AFR a national model for collaborative ecological forest management. We’re proud of the junior and senior high school students who worked side by side with Lomakatsi’s seasoned adult workforce assessing the forest and implementing restorative ecological best practices.

Mayor Stromberg told the group how he felt.

“It was so rewarding watching these young people learn, grow and bond with each other around the work we do,” he said. “An important part of being stewards of the land is teaching the next generation.”

Mentoring the next generation is critical to Lomakatsi Restoration Project. We’ve been running our Youth Ecological Stewardship Training and Employment Program across the region for over 15 years and in the Ashland Watershed for the past six summers. Additional programs in the Illinois Valley and two tribal communities will bring the total youth hired this summer to 50.

Vital to restoring ecosystems and creating fire adapted communities is continued care over generations. There are hundreds of young people who will be ready thanks to the restoration training and interest sparked through these programs. Continuing to grow green-collar jobs is an important way to tend to our natural world as it evolves.

There are many great youth programs. What makes Lomakatsi’s unique is our commitment to bringing together students from diverse backgrounds — tribal, Latinx, Caucasian, from a diversity of socio-economic, rural backgrounds. Social equity is one of our central values.

In fact, our youth program been recognized by the National Congress of American Indians, U.S. Department of Interior, and U.S. Department of Agriculture for its successes tackling socio-economic and environmental challenges. We receive three times the number of applicants than we’re able to accept into the program each year, and are currently seeking funding sources to expand our capacity.

From top to bottom, watersheds serve as outdoor laboratories where youth care for the land and develop experience in natural resource fields. They also gain exposure to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects which have been identified as paramount to our nation’s ability to remain innovative and competitive in years to come.

Students work in a diversity of ecosystems gaining professional experience and skill sets in ecological restoration, technical forestry, botany, invasive species management, stream ecology, watershed management, fire ecology, wildlife habitat conservation, trail maintenance, eco-cultural restoration, soil science, Native American Traditional Ecological Knowledge and more.

In our outdoor classroom setting, students meet and learn from a stunning array of experts from the U.S. Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy, Tribal Leaders, The Klamath Bird Observatory, The Freshwater Trust, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Lomakatsi’s own foresters and restoration ecologists.

Every week is mapped out. After years of doing this we’ve learned how the youth engage and where the touchstones are. Chief among those lessons is getting a sense of where we are. As a result of what they learn, they can never step foot in forests or along streams without experiencing a sense of awe. They can come back to the places they’ve worked and know the ecosystems are healthier because of them.

They come on day one as strangers. By the end of the program they’re family. Whatever they decide to do next, we know they’ll bring a restoration culture with them.

Applications for this summer’s youth programs are now open for students in the Rogue Valley and Illinois Valley. If you know a high school junior or senior who might be interested, please visit our website for more information: www.lomakatsi.org.

Marko Bey is executive director and founder of Lomakatsi Restoration Project.

Lomakatsi restoration project