Saturday, April 13, 2013

Our Forests & Parks Need a New WPA

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service highlights the threats our natural areas face, due to climate change, as we progress through the 21st century: Increased wildfires, higher levels of invasive species, more tree destruction by the bark beetle, and greater frequency of floods & erosion (report available here). Indeed, an increase in damage has already begun. For example, William Sommers, professor at George Mason University, and former director of fire research for the U.S. Forest Service notes, "Fire activity has definitely increased in terms of overall activity and acreage burned, and that's not just in the United States" (see "U.S. Wildfires Map Reveals Rising Menace").

During the Great Depression, the WPA built firebreaks to prevent the spread of fires, destroyed "noxious weeds," protected trees from "destructive insects," and engaged in flood & erosion control activities (e.g., small dams, drainage, and flood diversion). Further, WPA workers planted trees, built fire lookout towers, and built ranger stations. (From the "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43," by the Federal Works Agency, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946)

Today, there are 26 million Americans who would like a full-time job but can't find one (, and there are "Nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults (who) are neither in school nor in the workforce" (see Annie E. Casey Foundation press release--with a link to their policy report--at "Youth Unemployment Soars in Past Decade").

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