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Oregon Conservation Corps Partnership Connects Veterans with Habitat Restoration Efforts

Built on the success of other West Coast programs, veterans are gaining experience and skills in natural resource careers with NOAA in Oregon.

Two people stand on a grassy hill near a river Damon Jackson (left), a 2022 NOAA veteran intern in Portland, Oregon, visits a restoration project on the Willamette River.

Program Overview

The NOAA Restoration Center and West Coast Region have partnered with Mt. Adams Institute, a local non-profit organization, to provide diverse internship opportunities to veterans. Mt. Adams Institute's VetsWork: Environment is an 11-month career development internship program for military veterans interested in the natural resources management field. VetsWork participants are placed at local, state, and federal agencies or non-profits, where they provide project support while exploring various career paths.

Through this program, NOAA and partners are strengthening the connection between veterans and the natural world through education, service learning, career development, and research.

Oregon Veterans Corps Program Goals

Participants are trained and gain experience in a combination of social and natural science topics, including: 

  • Salmon habitat restoration techniques
  • Stewardship of conserved lands
  • Natural resource management
  • Invasive species plant removal
  • Native plants
  • Ecological surveys
  • Mapping/GIS
  • Data collection and management
  • Volunteer coordination
  • Environmental education
  • Field equipment management
  • Learning about NOAA and non-profit work
  • Networking with professional natural resource managers

Meet Some of the Veteran Interns

NOAA-supported interns have worked at nonprofit sister organizations to support habitat restoration efforts in the state of Oregon, as well as at the NOAA Fisheries office in Portland. NOAA’s past partners in estuary restoration are two of the members of the National Estuary Program, an EPA place-based program to protect and restore the water quality and ecological integrity of estuaries of national significance.

In 2022, NOAA Fisheries hosted a veteran intern at our own Portland office. We welcomed U.S. Army veteran Damon Jackson to a shared position between the NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region and NOAA Restoration Center. He had opportunities to learn about the science and policy of habitat restoration and salmon recovery; network and collaborate with agency, tribal, and nonprofit partners; build a portfolio of outreach and communications products; work with project managers on restoration projects; and advance his GIS skills.

A person wearing tall boots stands in muddy, shallow water holding a green and white plant
During his internship in Portland, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Alex Apelis collected, harvested, and planted wapato seeds and tubers.

On the coast, our veterans have worked at the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP), where they focused on native seed collection and propagation, field data interpretation, and honing leadership and professional skills. As community engagement specialists, the interns worked with a variety of scientists and in a variety of settings. 

A sister organization to TEP is Portland area Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership. Veteran intern work at Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership involved post-planting site monitoring, leading big canoe trips on the Willamette River for community groups, and lots of field work. As field technicians, the NOAA veteran interns do both ecological restoration and environmental education. They have found that the mix of duties, responsibilities, and learning opportunities suits them well. Both interns have enjoyed the work so much they are coming back for another year of engaging and demanding work. One of the 2022 veteran interns, Alex Apelis, enjoyed his time so much that he decided to intern a second year in a new geography. We wish Alex a fantastic second year as he explores natural resource management in Alaska.

Meet Our Implementing Partner

Mt. Adams Institute strengthens the connection between people and the natural world through education, service learning, career development and research. The Institute hosts two veteran-focused programs: 

  • VetsWork: Environment, an 11-month career development internship program for military veterans in the natural resources management, public lands, and environment sector.
  • VetsWork: FireCorps, a 12-week career training program for military veterans interested in wildfire landscape management, wildland firefighting and other natural resource management and public lands careers.

How to Apply

If you are interested in learning more about this partnership or applying to the VetWorks program in Oregon, please contact NOAA's Laurel Jennings at Laurel.Jennings@noaa.gov or the Mt. Adams Institute's Katie Schmidt at katie@mtadamsinstitute.org.