On a blustery, grey day in 1995, four people wearing green fleece jackets showed up at the wetland where I was teaching ecology to middle schoolers. They were the advance guard of a new program called “AmeriCorps,” and they were there to jump-start our fledgling conservation education program.
For the next several months, we developed curriculum, taught kids, and collected data about birds and turtles and how plant communities changed with hydrology. Together we built a wetlands education program that exists to this day.
My story isn’t an isolated one. If you’ve hiked on a trail, looked at a young tree, or watched a bird or frog anywhere in our region any time since 1995, the chances are pretty high that it was built, cleared, planted, weeded or studied by an AmeriCorps member.
In the past six years, Confluence Environmental Center’s AmeriCorps members have restored 173 natural areas in the region and taught 44,000 kids (greater than the entire population of Lake Oswego), over half in low-income communities and communities of color. They’ve been able to pay off student loans or pursue higher education in the process. And Confluence is one of only 84 AmeriCorps programs in Oregon. Sounds pretty good.
No so fast.
As I write these words, the Trump administration wants to eliminate AmeriCorps, along with the entire agency that supports it, the Corporation for National and Community Service. It’s not about money: AmeriCorps is .0003 of 1 percent of the federal budget.
If AmeriCorps vanishes, The Intertwine will lose. There will be fewer people to keep wildlife habitat healthy. Weeds won’t get pulled, and kids won’t get taught. Communities that haven’t had access to a healthy environment will be hurt the most.
But we’ll lose even more than that. For the people who dedicate a year of their lives at (ridiculously) low pay, AmeriCorps is a pipeline to conservation leadership. Of those people who showed up in ’95, one now manages a wildlife refuge on the Oregon Coast, another led watershed protection efforts in Alaska, and a third manages access-to-nature programs here and is a regular at Intertwine Alliance gatherings. In fact, two of the last four articles on this website were written by former AmeriCorps Members.
If today’s natural area managers, scientists and environmental educators were a baseball team, then AmeriCorps is the AAA squad that will play in the big leagues soon. If we want a healthy Intertwine in 10 years, we need AmeriCorps.
With your help, we can get funding for AmeriCorps back in the federal budget. Contacting the Oregon delegation is easy. It literally takes seconds.
But that won’t be enough. With the exception of Rep. Greg Walden, the Oregon delegation already supports AmeriCorps. Senators Wyden and Merkley and Congressman Blumenauer are already leading this fight. Please thank them.
You’d think AmeriCorps would be a bipartisan issue. It’s cost-effective, offers people another way to serve their country and their community, reaches both red and blue states, and has origins in both the first Bush and Clinton administrations.
And here’s the good news: AmeriCorps is a bipartisan issue. Haley Barbour, former Republican governor of Louisiana, recently wrote a heartfelt defense of AmeriCorps in the Washington Post, recalling how AmeriCorps helped restore Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. Thad Cochran (R-MS) co-chairs the Senate’s National Service Caucus -- and is the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
We have a key vote next door. Rep. Jamie Herrera-Beutler (R-WA), who represents Clark County, has a critical seat on Appropriations. The Intertwine Alliance plays a large role in her district. Please contact her, and the others below, who are past supporters of AmeriCorps and are on the right committees to make a difference.
- Rep. Jamie Herrera-Beutler, (360) 695-6292, http://herrerabeutler.house.gov/contact/
- Representative Greg Walden, (541) 389-4408, https://walden.house.gov/contact-greg/email-me
- Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), 202-225-5531, http://simpson.house.gov/
- Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), (202)-224-5054, http://www.cochran.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/offices
- Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), (202) 224-6665, https://www.murkowski.senate.gov/contact/email
- Senator John McCain (R-AZ), (202) 224-2235, https://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-form
If you’re nervous about picking up the phone to call a member of Congress, don't be. Tell them to insist on restored funding for AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National Service. It’s that simple. Compared to a dense patch of Japanese knotweed, dealing with these folks is a piece of cake.
Wild places, as Edward Abbey wrote, need no defense. They just need more defenders. Thank you for being one of them.