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Oregon Conservation Corps Partnership Giving Veterans New Mission to Restore Fish Habitat

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

OR Corps C Sutherland Water sampling 1494x996 Alix Lee.png Chris Sutherland, a Veterans Corps participant in Oregon, tosses a sampling bottle into the water.

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 removal
  • Native plants
  • Ecological surveys
  • Mapping
  • Data collection and management
  • Volunteer coordination
  • Environmental education
  • Field equipment management

Meet Some of the Veteran Interns

Our first Veterans Corps participant in Oregon, Chris Sutherland, was placed with the Tillamook Estuary Partnership in 2019. Our first Veterans Corps participant in Oregon, Chris Sutherland, was placed with the Tillamook Estuary Partnership in 2019. Chris worked on site at NOAA partner Tillamook Estuaries Partnership in Garibaldi, Oregon, as a Community Engagement and Education intern.

“We [veterans] went in [to the service] for a sense of purpose, because we had something inside us that makes us want to serve. We’re service-oriented people, and this work keeps me in the mindset of continuing to fight for a mission.”

Learn more about Chris Sutherland’s experience in the veterans corps program

Image
A woman holding juvenile plants outside of a nursery.
Oregon Veteran Corps intern, Gina Kennedy.

One year later Gina Kennedy, another veteran intern, joined Chris at the Partnership. Their contributions to restoring habitat for threatened salmon throughout the Partnership's service area are significant. They had a chance to network with staff from NOAA, U.S. EPA, the Hatfield Marine Science labs, Oregon Coast Aquarium, and the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership

They got out on boats, conducted salmon counts by snorkel, collected native plant seeds, worked with incarcerated youth at a native plant nursery, participated in land surveys, and volunteered as tide pool interpreters. Chris was a two-year participant and Gina enjoyed her first year so much that she has agreed to come back for a second year. 

Image
A man in the woods digging a hole with a shovel.
Oregon Veteran Corps intern, Justin Carr.

A third veteran intern, who graduated from the program, Justin Carr—was placed with site host Willamette Riverkeeper in Portland, Oregon as a Stewardship Coordinator and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. He learned how to identify aquatic and land-based invasive plant species, participated in survey and monitoring efforts, took baseline photos for invasive plant treatments, became an expert in native vegetation planting and management all while working in rugged terrain at large salmon habitat restoration sites. Justin has also just completed a degree in environmental science and now that his internship has concluded, is considering pursuing his master’s degree or starting his first job in natural resource management.

Meet Our Past and Current Partners

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, the VetsWork Environment, and VetsWork GreenCorps

The Tillamook Estuaries Partnership is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation and restoration of Tillamook County’s estuaries and watersheds. Through VetsWork, the two organizations collaborated to host the first NOAA Veterans Corps internship program in Oregon. 

Willamette Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore the Willamette River. The organization works to restore natural function to the river, focusing on water quality and abundant natural habitat. Since 1996, the organization has been engaged in habitat restoration and public outreach and education in support of a healthy Willamette River.

Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership is a non-profit organization operating in the Portland, Oregon area. This group, dedicated to the Columbia River and its communities, is focused on the lower 146 miles of the Columbia River, from Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean, including the tidally influenced portions of tributaries in that area.

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 Aaron Stanton at aaron@mtadamsinstitute.org.