Ravalli County Commission pens letter in support of Trapper Creek

Members of a Trapper Creek Job Corps crew helped an elderly couple protect their home up the East Fork of the Bitterroot from floodwaters in this file photograph. 

The Ravalli County Commission joined a growing chorus of voices urging the federal government to rethink its position on changing the way it operates Trapper Creek Job Corps.

In a letter written this week to U.S. secretaries of agriculture and labor, the commission called it “shocking” that — without so much as holding a single discussion on the local level — the federal government could threaten the program that’s been so important to Ravalli County.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced in May the Forest Service would withdraw from operating 28 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers by the end of September. The U.S. Labor Department said it planned to privatize 16 of those centers, including Trapper Creek, and close the other nine, including Anaconda.

The commissioner’s letter said Trapper Creek Job Corps has become an integral part of the Ravalli County community.

“They have stood beside us in good times, and been reliable partners in bad times,” the letter read.

Whether it is helping to battle wildfires, combat flooding or assisting with recovery, the commission said Trapper Creek has always been there for county residents. Its students have also helped to improve the quality of life in the community in a variety of ways that range from pouring sidewalks, working on important building projects or crafting meals for community fundraisers.

“Through our long-time partnership with TCJC, we have watched it become one of the most successful and impactful programs in the country,” the letter read. “It is no exaggeration to say that no other federal program we know of has changed more lives, turning many troubled youths into contributing, skilled members of our society.

“It can truly be said that TCJC represents the best of what the federal government can offer its citizens,” the letter continued. “Our community is reeling from the news and we are angered at the lack of communication on a subject that in no small measure impacts us all.

“At a time in our nation’s history when government is criticized for waste, fraud and abuse, it is inconceivable to us that you would take a model of success and, at worst, close it down, and at best, set it up for future failure by removing it from the stewardship of the Department of Agriculture and the US Forest Service where it has thrived for so many years.

“It is our considered opinion that you are discarding a program, which, in our region, is hailed and universally regarded as a major success,” the letter read. “We respectfully request that you reconsider this precipitous move. At a minimum, please give our community the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process as you deliberate on this important matter.”

The commission’s letter brought quick response from both U.S. senators from Montana.

In his reply, Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, told the commission he remained a staunch supporter of both Anaconda and Trapper Creek Civilian Conservation Centers.

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“I remain concerned that efforts to close or transition CCCs, like the ones in Anaconda and Darby, will have profound impacts on the young people, staff, and surrounding communities that benefit from the programs,” Daines wrote.

In the letter, Daines said President Donald Trump has decided to keep the Anaconda CCC open following a conversation the senator had with the president. Daines said he continues to work to keep other CCCS, including Trapper Creek, open and within the Forest Service through letters of objection sent to Perdue and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and by signing onto legislation that would block the closures or transfers.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, also responded to the commission’s letter.

“I couldn’t agree more with the folks in Ravalli County,” Tester wrote. “The Administration’s decision to transfer control of Trapper Creek is short-sighted, reckless and ill-informed. That’s why I wrote and introduced a bill to stop the closure and transfer of all 25 Civilian Conservation Centers across the country.

“And I’m pushing hard to get this bill passed and on the President’s desk as soon as humanly possible,” Tester wrote.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan amendment that would prevent the federal government from pulling funding from Job Corps Conservation Centers for the rest of the year passed the House 313-109. That bill will now go to the U.S. Senate for a vote.