Local crew members help homeowners

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Members of the Madras YCC haul brush off a steep grade leading up to a private property in the Three Rivers Recreation Area. The lack of heavy fuels on the hillside below the home will help protect it in the event of a wildfire. Protecting homes and communities from wildfire is an annual task in Central Oregon.

Thanks to a unique employment program, a group of young men and women from Madras, Culver, and Warm Springs recently spent two weeks helping local homeowners create defensible space around their properties near Lake Billy Chinook.

The 12 teenagers are part of the larger Central Oregon Youth Conservation Corps, a “work-learn-earn” program administered cooperatively by the Heart of Oregon Corps, Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Forest Service in partnership with local community organizations, schools, businesses, the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps and private foundations.

Each year, the COYCC program hires local youths in seven Central Oregon cities to work for eight weeks during the summer.

The group recently sawed juniper limbs up to six feet high, cut down dry sagebrush, and hauled off hazardous fuels from around several properties in the Three Rivers Recreation Area identified by Lake Chinook Rural Fire Protection District Chief Don Colfels.

One of the properties is just 200 yards from a 1,300-acre wildfire that threatened it two years ago.

During Memorial Day weekend this year another fire started on private land, spread to Crooked River National Grassland, consumed 40 acres and led to campsite evacuations before it was stopped, Colfels said.

“The youth group did an outstanding job. The homeowners were very pleased and extremely grateful for their hard work. One homeowner added she actually feels safe now in the event of another wildfire,” Colfels said.

Thinning projects like this one benefit the homeowners, the firefighters, and the public lands by creating buffers void of heavy fuels between private residences and the public property that surrounds them. YCC also provides an engaging outdoor job for local youth.

“So far it’s been really fun,” said Joseph Alaniz, 17, of Madras. “I wanted to earn some money (this summer) and do something outdoors to get exercise.”

He prefers cutting tree limbs and hauling brush over serving fast food, he said.

The group will tackle more projects throughout the summer, like maintaining hiking trails and pasture fences, pulling invasive weeds, cleaning campgrounds, and posting road signs.

“The COYCC program has a triple bottom line benefit,” said Laura Handy, executive director of Heart of Oregon Corps. "First, it provides job skills training for local youth that connects them to the out-of-doors; second, it stimulates local economies with the wages paid to youth and staff; and third, it improves and protects the region’s public lands and surrounding communities.”

This year, 82 local youth across Central Oregon will earn full-time wages and qualify for AmeriCorps college scholarship money while engaged in meaningful work that teaches skills and builds friendships.

To learn more about the Central Oregon YCC program, visit the Heart of Oregon Corps website at

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