Trump Administration to Close Oregon Forest Service Job Training Center Ahead of Wildfire Season: “It’s a Slap in the Face”

Sen. Jeff Merkley says cutting the program, "harms thousands of students and puts every state facing another disastrous wildfire season at further risk.”

On May 24, the Trump Administration announced it will close nine Forest Service vocation centers—including one in Oregon—that train disadvantaged youth in wildfire fighting and other rural jobs.

The Timber Lake Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center in Estacada and the Fort Simcoe CCC near Yakima, Wash. are two centers that will shutter in September, Oregon Public Broadcasting first reported.

The centers provide free job training programs for at-risk young people in a variety of vocational fields—including forestry and wildfire management. CCC centers employ over 3,000 a year in small towns across the U.S. and 1,100 federal employees will lose their jobs as a result of the cut.

Brian Hickman, the Timber Lake center employee responsible for training fire crews, says the closure will affect 180 students and 45 staff members—12 of whom are military veterans.

"There are a lot of veterans who work at Job Corps centers across the country," Hickman says. "It's a slap on the face, especially considering the timing of the announcement on Memorial Day weekend."

The program's shutdown, the Washington Times reports, will result in the largest layoff of civil servants in nearly a decade. Sixteen remaining centers, including two in Oregon, that are not shuttered will be taken over by private partnerships overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor and they will stop accepting students.

The cuts to the fire management training program come on the brink of what will likely be another deadly wildfire season in the West. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on May 29 unveiled a $1 billion plan to attempt to curb the catastrophic effects of fires, which have been made more extreme by climate change.

Related: Murmurs: Merkley Unveils Wildfire Plan

"U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Agriculture's abrupt decision to close Civilian Conservation Centers harms thousands of students and puts every state facing another disastrous wildfire season at further risk," Merkley tweeted on Friday.

In 2017, the Timber Lake Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center was among the first groups to respond to the Eagle Creek Fire, KOIN News reported.

Hickman says that his crew provides crucial support to fire fighters.

"Camp crews run supply units on big fire camps," Hickman says. "We do all of the facilities, set up the yurts and tents and do trash pick-up."

He adds that students who have spent months training for fire season may have the rug pulled from under them. "Current students are upset," Hickman says. "They don't want to move and start all over."

Also at issue is the management of the 50 buildings on 50 acres of land that the Timber Lake center owns. "There's no transition plan for when Timber Lake closes about who is going to manage it," Hickman says. "The Forest Service doesn't have the money to do it. Is it just going to be left abandoned?"

The National Federation of Federal Employees, a U.S. federal workers labor union, is also urging Congress members and state and local officials to advocate for keeping the program alive.

The Labor Department said in a statement that cutting the CCC is "an opportunity to serve a greater number of students at higher performing centers at a lower cost to taxpayers."

Hickman says the support from Congress members to keep CCC's running has been "a little overwhelming," and that Merkley's office is campaigning in D.C. to keep the center open.

"In the next month we'll know for sure if the closure will happen," Hickman says.