In July 2010, as the Schultz Fire ripped across the eastern face of the San Francisco Peaks and Hotshot fire crews from around the country descended on the mountain, members of the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC) prepared to go straight to work.
When monsoonal downpours quenched what was left of the flames, floodwaters rushed down the mountainside and devastated multiple homes and lives. One of the first organizations to rise and aid dazed residents with sandbags, straw waddles and a helping hand were CREC crew members.
For 16 years, the residents of Coconino County have grown to rely on CREC crew members in their time of need – not only for helping to protect homes during emergencies, but by acting as stewards of our vast public lands throughout Northern Arizona.
It was remarked at the Nov. 19 meeting of the Board of Supervisors that during the 2010 Schultz Fire, as Hotshot crews worked to gain control of the intense blaze, some CREC crew members came away from the area dirtier and more exhausted.
While we are forever indebted to the brave Hotshots who brought control to the inferno, our CREC crews worked just as tirelessly to protect our communities following the blaze. For CREC, every time they pick up a chainsaw, shovel or Pulaski axe, they do so with pride, knowing they are serving the same communities in which they live.
That is why on Nov. 19, as the Board approved an agreement transferring management of the program to Durango, Colo.-based non-profit Southwestern Conservation Corps (SCC), our devoted CREC crew members wiped tears and embraced each other as they embarked on a new chapter with the organization.
CREC has changed the lives of the nearly 2,000 corps members who have graduated through the program. These young adults have joined Hotshot crews, sought careers in wildlife management and conservation, fire science, ecology, land preservation and countless other fields.
Corps members have also planted more than 100,000 trees and completed hundreds of miles of trails across Arizona. In addition, CREC Energy Conservation Corps has weatherized more than 358 low-income homes, helped reduced more than 200 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and saved more than 300 megawatt hours of electricity.
So with the CREC program being such a huge success, why would the county hand it over to an outside organization?
Essentially, every once in a while, a program’s overwhelming success can no longer be contained. To allow CREC to continue to grow and prosper, it required additional opportunities the county couldn’t always provide.
Such agreements to splinter off highly successful programs are not anything new for the county. In 2006, the organization spun off the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (NAIPTA), which provides public transportation services to thousands of riders daily throughout Flagstaff.
By placing CREC into the hands of a non-governmental agency, the program is afforded long-term stability, especially during times of federal financial uncertainty. Furthermore, SCC Governing Board President John Irish, who helped found CREC, promised to make the organization more effective and efficient in its conservation efforts.
However, CREC’s mission in Northern Arizona will largely be unchanged. The organization will continue its conservation efforts in our public lands, but will be afforded additional opportunities to work throughout the Southwest in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
In 2012, SCC engaged 820 corps members and crew leaders and completed 369,141 hours of service in 22 states. Like CREC, SCC strives to provide young adults with structured, safe and challenging service and educational projects that promote personal growth, the development of social skills and an ethic of natural resource stewardship.
That is how we know that come Jan. 1, CREC will be placed in the right hands. We are also comforted that Northern Arizona will still be able to call on CREC during our times of need, only now the entire Southwest can do the same. FBN
Cynthia Seelhammer serves as Coconino County Manager.