Date: July 2, 2009
Brian Cottam, Associate Director
Southern Utah University Office of Regional Services
CEDAR CITY — Charlene Feick drags brush from a small downed tree across the grassy hillside that surrounds the Southern Utah University Mountain Center.
Working with two fellow members of the Utah Conservation Corps, she snaps off limbs here and there, and begins arranging them in the shape of a teepee.
Logs from the dead tree will be added later to protect the brush as it dries. In the winter, when the fire danger on Cedar Mountain all but disappears, crews from the Utah Division of Forestry will burn the dead brush piled into dozens of similar teepees dotting the hillside.
“It’d be nice to come back with some marshmallows in the wintertime,” Feick said with a smile.
A 20-year-old SUU junior from Ely, Nev., Feick — or “Charlie,” as she prefers to be called — is spending her summer with the UCC as part of a pilot program sponsored by SUU’s Intergovernmental Internship Cooperative.
IIC partnered with Utah State University to sponsor a UCC crew, made up of college students, in Southern Utah this summer. The cooperative is also sponsoring a high-school crew under the auspices of the Youth Conversation Corps.
Together, the two “youth crews” — ranging in age from 15 to 26 — are working on public and state lands to protect and enhance natural resources in Southern Utah.
After two weeks of training, the crews built trails in Snow Canyon State Park and at Three Peaks Recreation Area, and worked on forest management and fuels reduction at the SUU Mountain Ranch surrounding the Mountain Center.
Between now and mid-July, they’ll also spend time on projects for the National Park Service in Bryce Canyon National Park and at Cedar Breaks National Monument.
IIC Agency Coordinator Steve McCarthy described the program as “a two-edged sword.”
“We’re meeting the needs of the region’s state and federal land-management agencies who are our IIC partners,” he said. “At the same time, we’re giving these young people a new opportunity through. By the end of the summer, they will have had a great job and been exposed to several different agencies and outdoor projects.”
Brian Cottam, Associate Director of SUU Regional Services, said the idea behind both the IIC and the youth crews is “to use university resources and students to help the land management agencies get desired projects accomplished. That’s the big picture — to work with the land management agencies on site getting work done. And it’s working; the youth crews are doing a bang-up job.”
To be hired for Utah Conservation Corps, the college students went through a series of interviews with IIC staff, after which they were rated and ranked before successful candidates were selected. Most of the UCC members are from the Cedar City area or have connections to SUU.
The high school students working with the Youth Conservation Corps were selected randomly, as required by program policy. They are from the Cedar City area.
Tyler Savage, a 26-year-old SUU graduate from Thatcher, Ariz., serves as the overall crew boss. He said the youth crews like to start work each day at about 7 a.m., “before it gets too hot.”
Crew members work 40 hours each week, and the pay ranks above “burger-flippin’ wages,” McCarthy says, but the work can be exhausting.
“They earn every dime,” he said. “It’s hard work.”
In addition to the work itself, the program also features an education component, McCarthy said. For example, each student is required to complete a “reflection journal assignment,” in which he or she records thoughts and feelings about the youth crew experience.
The social aspect of working together is also important. McCarthy said Savage and assistant crew boss Rebecca Moses of Blanding have been good about scheduling social activities after work.
“This crew is pretty tight,” he said. “The crew members seem to like each other and work well together. That’s important because so many of these students either attend SUU or will attend SUU. These kids will see each other on campus, and they will already have a bond.”
Meanwhile, Cottam pointed out, the crew members are being exposed to several state and federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation.
“They’re learning a lot, and as they do, they’ll realize that there are opportunities available working for the state and federal government in managing public lands,” he said. Building brush teepees in the mountains is exhausting work, and Feick seems happy to take a break and reflect on the potential short-term impact of her work.
“We’re reducing the fire danger in the forest, especially near structures like the SUU cabin,” she said. “All this brush would burn if a fire came raging through here. It feels good to be doing something that could make a difference.”
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Members of the Utah Conservation Corps and Youth Conservation Corps sponsored by Southern Utah University’s Intergovernmental Internship Cooperative, in cooperation with Utah State University, worked for a week on forest management and fuels reduction around the SUU Mountain Center cabin. Crew members are (counter-clockwise from top left), Adam Topping, Cedar City; Caleb Smith, New Harmony; Tyler Savage, Thatcher, Ariz.; Danessa Whittier, Cedar City; Charlene Feick, Ely, Nev.; Mariah Oswald, New Harmony; Rebecca Moses, Blanding; B.T. McKay, Holladay; Jeff Groves, Atlanta, Ga.; and Sterling Ledbetter, Magna.
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Charlene “Charlie” Feick of Ely, Nev., works on building a brush teepee as part of a forest management-fuels reduction project at the Southern Utah University Mountain Center cabin. Feick, a 20-year-old SUU junior, is spending the summer as part of the Utah Conservation Corps in Southern Utah.