The program was initiated in 2011 by a team of BLM employees including Silvia Kraft, High Plains District Office support services supervisor; Rubel Vigil, Lander assistant field manager; and Budd Pitt, recreation technician and crew leader.
“The program was so successful last year that we decided to do it again this year and the number of students that participated doubled,” said Kraft. “In 2011 we received ten resumes and hired four students under the BLM’s Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP). This year we received 28 resumes and hired nine students.”
The recruitment team visited three schools on the Wind River Indian Reservation and talked to interested students about the program. Nine students from the Eastern Shoshone, Lakota and Northern Arapahoe Tribes, who share sovereignty on the Wind River Indian Reservation, were hired under the STEP program.
The STEP program provides federal employment opportunities to students. Using the STEP program benefits both the agencies and the employed students. Agencies can discover first-hand knowledge of potential permanent employees, while students enjoy meaningful employment and interesting assignments while working on natural resource projects on public lands.
“The Wind River Indian Reservation is bordered on all four sides by either BLM or U.S. Forest Service lands, however very few Native American students know who we are and what we do and the opportunities available to them,” said Vigil. “Our goal was to provide positive employment and learning opportunities for these students while making improvements to public lands.”
The youth crew included: Alvin Spoonhunter, Don Clifford, Taylor Bell, Alicia Sanchez, Spencer Lone Fight, Samuel Hurtado, Cole Littleshield, Dylan Bergstedt, and Clarence Aragon. Students represented Wyoming Indian, Fort Washakie Charter, St. Stephens, and Lander Valley High Schools.
The students completed many projects including riparian fence construction and repair, dispersed campsite clean-up, old mine shaft protective fencing construction, fuels reduction projects, and seed collection for the national Seeds of Success (SOS) program.
Fence exclosures, like those the crew repaired around Weasel Springs near Jeffrey City, protect and restore riparian areas and important spring sources that provide water to wildlife, livestock and wild horses. In addition, several of the repaired exclosures were developed to provide hikers along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail with clean, reliable water sources for filtering.
The contribution the crews made this summer to SOS will improve local restoration efforts and wildlife habitat re-seeding efforts in the future. SOS stores native plant seeds in seed banks across the nation in an effort to preserve genetic diversity and for use in the restoration of disturbed areas.
“The willingness and enthusiasm of these young men and women was contagious,” said BLM Forester Cindy Allen. “Not only did we enjoy working with them, but we learned from them.”
The students also experienced what it was like to live and work away from home. BLM campgrounds served as home bases for the Casper crew as they practiced life skills such as cooking, cleaning and learning to live and work together as a team. Individual crew members were also taught and practiced the concepts of the Leave No Trace, Take It Outside, Tread Lightly and the BLM’s recycling program.
According to Pitt, “For some of these kids it was their first time camping and being away from the reservation. They learned how to cook, build a fire, navigate by map, and clean up a campsite before leaving. They also learned key survival skills.”
Students rounded up their experience with a visit to the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center (NHTIC). At NHTIC, they received a tour of the facility and were introduced to BLM interpreters while completing vegetation projects and walkway features around the Pony Express Interpretive Area. The crew, along with one of the crew member’s father, also helped NHTIC staff set up a 19-pole teepee at the entrance to NHTIC.
The youth crew got the chance to showcase the success of this new program when Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Marcilynn Burke visited Wyoming in July. The youth met with Assistant Secretary Burke one-on-one and discussed what the youth initiative program means to them and their futures. They gave a PowerPoint presentation on their accomplishments this summer and answered questions from Burke and BLM Wyoming State Director Don Simpson.
Several parents were on hand to meet with Burke and expressed to her how this program has helped their children. “This is an important program for the reservation,” noted Don Clifford’s mother, Andi Clifford. “My son wouldn’t have had the self-esteem to get up and make this presentation a year ago.”
In addition to completing important public lands projects, the crew members were exposed to the roles and responsibilities of a federal natural resource agency and future employment opportunities available to them. BLM resource specialists also provided educational information with each of the projects they worked on so the students would gain important knowledge about natural resource management. They gained first-hand experience in forest health, range and recreation management, wildlife and wildlife habitats, local history, and stewardship of public lands. The BLM is looking forward to continuing this program in 2013.