• Otávio Santiago

A national 'climate corps'? California is leading the way

MARKLEEVILLE, CALIFORNIAA cold, constant rain is falling on the burned-out vehicles, buildings, and Jeffrey pine forest at Grover Hot Springs State Park. Almost 6,000 feet up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the park was torched last summer by the Tamarack fire, which burned over 68,000 acres east of Lake Tahoe.

Even in the downpour, eight-foot-high piles of just-ignited woody debris burn fiercely, their crackling accompanied by the constant whine of chainsaws. The 14 members of the California Conservation Corps’ Tahoe Fire Crew No. 1 are felling hundreds of blackened “hazard trees” marked with orange spray-painted numbers. At risk of toppling, they need to be cut down before workers can clean up the zone.

A warning is called—“Second cut. Tree falling!”—and another 80-foot-tall dead pine drops across the road.

Working in the mud among piles of logs and stumps, the blue-helmeted corps members are soaking wet and grime-streaked. The chainsaw operators wear dark Kevlar chaps and yellow jackets stained with dirt and wet sawdust.

“We’re sure living up to the promise,” 21-year-old crewmember Elizabeth Wing says with the bare hint of a smile. The “promise” is the official motto of the California Conservation Corps: “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions, and more.”

“I’ve had a lot of crappy jobs, but not this one,” explains Martin Castellon, who was raised in Tijuana and San Diego, and spent his 26th birthday shoveling snow for the corps. “Sure, we have some crappy conditions. But it makes you appreciate it all the more.”

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