US Forest Service

A U.S. Forest Service job training center for rural youth in western Colorado will be taken over by a private contractor, and its employees have been told they can either retire or apply for new jobs.

Colorado Public Radio reports the federal government has informed the Collbran Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center that its 46 employees will lose their jobs at an undetermined date.

The vocational center has trained and helped find work for rural youth for more than 50 years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, also is closing some of its other 25 job-training centers nationwide, drawing protests from members of Congress, including Colorado's delegation.

Lawmakers say it's a bad idea to close the centers, especially in the West, where trainees often help the Forest Service fight wildfires.

The U.S. Department of Labor says the closures will allow officials to concentrate Job Corps resources at "better performing centers" and to serve more youth.

The Collbran Center is the only one in Colorado. Its director, Evonne Stites, said the center likely will be privatized — and that she and fellow staff have been told they can either retire or interview for new positions with an unnamed contractor. Stites has worked at the center for two decades.

"We know that Collbran Job Corps will continue," Stites said. "We don't know exactly what it will look like."

"After a difficult year of natural disasters and with hurricane and wildfire season quickly approaching, now is precisely the wrong time to be reducing capacity at CCCs (Civilian Conservation Centers)," more than 50 federal lawmakers said in a recent protest letter to the agriculture and labor departments.

The job centers employ 1,100 people, operate in 17 national forests and grasslands across 16 states and provide training to more than 3,000 youths, according to a news release. Many students come from low-income communities in rural areas.

Collbran students spend thousands of hours every year fighting wildfires, Stites said.

"They are provided an education and they can also earn their GED," she said. "They are taught their importance in making the world a better place."

In Montana, the Trump administration recently reversed a decision to close the Anaconda Job Corps training center.

Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, announced the reversal Monday. Daines' staff said he urged the president to keep it open. The Anaconda center has 63 staffers and trains more than 160 students in manufacturing, mechanics, carpentry, welding and other disciplines.

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