Community support through the Austin Civilian Conservation Corps helps prepare critical water quality protection lands
AUSTIN, TX – Austin Water and Austin Fire Department have partnered for years to mitigate wildfire risks on the 40,000+ acres managed by Austin Water’s Wildland Conservation Division. In September, a ten-person crew from the Austin Civilian Conservation Corps will boost these efforts over the next 8 months with work on projects aimed at producing fire-resilient forests and reducing potentially hazardous fuels across Austin Water’s conservation lands.
Austin Civilian Conservation Corps activities will contribute to Austin Water’s efforts to conserve and protect land for our region. The Water Quality Protection Lands benefit the quality and quantity of water recharging the Edwards Aquifer, which provides water to both Barton Springs and to groundwater that feeds more than 60,000 wells in Hays and Travis Counties. The closed-canopy woodlands of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve provide endangered species habitat in our rapidly developing region by permanently protecting forests and caves in Travis County.
Austin Civilian Conservation Corps projects include the construction and maintenance of shaded fuel breaks where conservation land borders private property. Cut material will be processed into mulch at Austin Water’s Hornsby Bend facility and reused in ongoing restoration efforts. Conservation Corps crews will also help to prepare wildlands for prescribed burn treatment. Prescribed burns mimic the natural fire cycle in a way that can be planned and organized to limit fire intensity and can serve both natural landscapes and human communities by reducing the potential for destructive wildfires. Additionally, Austin Water and Austin Fire Department will provide training in wildfire prevention techniques that the Conservation Corps will implement to mitigate wildfire risks. These mitigation activities will include chainsaw operation, Firewise home ignition zone audits, and the basics on the benefits and purpose of shaded fuel breaks. All Conservation Corps members will earn a living wage and gain skills that may support a transition into a new career.
“Austin Water has prioritized sustainability and resilience in our strategic planning and business objectives. We want to preserve our natural resources and prepare for extreme events like wildfire,” said Kevin Critendon, Austin Water’s Assistant Director of Environmental, Planning, and Development Services. “This unique partnership with the Austin Civilian Conservation Corps not only helps us prepare for wildfire threats, but also provides workforce development for community members who have been significantly impacted by the on-going pandemic. We are proud to be a part of this effort to increase resilience on many fronts.”
Initially proposed by Council Member Alison Alter, Austin City Council passed Resolution No. 20200507-061, which provided direction for the Austin Civilian Conservation Corps, a workforce initiative aimed at “employ[ing] Austinites who have lost jobs and/or faced a significant economic impact as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, or persons who need to leave their current job for health reasons.” An amendment in July added in measures specific to the creation of a wildfire workforce crew. Austin Parks and Recreation and Watershed Protection Departments have been accomplishing projects with Conservation Corps crews throughout 2021 and will continue the effort in 2022. Non-profit American Youth Works is the contracted recruiter and operator of Austin Civilian Conservation Corps crews.
Learn more about Austin Water Wildlands at austintexas.gov/wildlands and about community efforts to reduce wildfire risk at https://wildfire-austin.hub.arcgis.com/
To learn more about or get involved with the Austin Civilian Conservation Corps, program applicants and potential community partners are encouraged to explore the Austin Civilian Conservation Corps website.