Posted: January 14, 2020

“How do we grow more good jobs while conserving and improving our forests?” PA Governor Tom Wolfe asked the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR) in fall of 2015.

The Correctional Conservation Collaborative effort trains near-release inmates for work in the forestry and tree care industries (Photo by Shea Zwerver)

The Correctional Conservation Collaborative effort trains near-release inmates for work in the forestry and tree care industries (Photo by Shea Zwerver)

Less than a year later, Woods That Work was published, laying out several objectives aimed at answering the Governor's question. Two of the objectives in the report were to broaden recruitment efforts to attract people into forestry careers and to develop more formal and informal pipelines between industry and institutions. This served as impetus to garnering support for a workforce development program led by the PA DCNR at Pennsylvania State Correctional Institutions (SCIs).

Originating as a pilot Arboriculture Training Program at one SCI, the effort has grown in response to other workforce challenges and needs. As a result of this growth, the overall effort has become known as the Correctional Conservation Collaborative (CCC). To date, the CCC has coordinated 12 programs, including trainings and classes in tree climbing, chainsaw safety, pesticide application, arboriculture, seed propagation, and riparian forest buffer maintenance totaling 3,931 seat hours and reaching 102 individuals. These trainings equip inmates who are nearing release with employable skills and thus help create a workforce pipeline for the forestry and tree care industries.

At first, program success was measured by the number of reentrants getting jobs in the forestry or tree care industry. However, some program participants were skilled tradesmen and had union jobs waiting for them upon their release. This led to the reevaluation and redefining of the program's success. We realized that even if we can help educate and build awareness among construction workers on tree preservation or natural gas pipeline workers on forests and water quality, then that is still success. Captured in qualitative evaluations of the programs, participants reflect upon and share their program experiences:

"As an outdoorsman, this training opened my eyes to a huge amount of information I had no idea about."

"I liked learning about trees the most. I didn't think I would like it, but I did."

In a recent article, a founding CCC visionary and Forest Manager with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Ryan Davis, captured it well when he said, "In my entire career, I've never educated a group that was so far outside of the choir that we typically preach to. And they have quite possibly turned out to be the best audience I've ever had."

The CCC would not be what it is today without support from many partners and instructors who volunteer their time, offer to share their knowledge, and step outside of their comfort zone. If you are interested in getting involved, please reach out.

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802