Bowing to pressure from Congress and communities across the country, the Trump Administration announced Wednesday that it will not close or transfer any of the Job Corps Centers operated by the U.S. Forest Service, including Montana’s Trapper Creek and Anaconda centers.
“Following a robust engagement with stakeholders and members of Congress regarding the future of the USFS Job Corps centers, USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) has notified DOL (Department of Labor) that the USFS will evaluate the feedback while reviewing its role in Job Corps management and operation,” said a joint statement from the two agencies released late Wednesday.
For the time being, the announcement said the centers will not be transferred to the Department of Labor.
"DOL and USDA will conduct a robust organizational review to determine the appropriate course of action keeping in mind the USFS mission, the students we serve, and the American taxpayers,” said the announcement. “As USDA looks to the future, it is imperative the USFS focuses on and prioritizes its core natural resource mission to improve the condition and resilience of our nation’s forests.”
Trapper Creek Director Jesse Casterson said he planned to make an official announcement to staff and students Thursday morning.
Anaconda-Deer Lodge Chief Executive Bill Everett called Wednesday's announcement "fantastic news."
"It finally settles this, puts the exclamation point on it. We knew we were safe during the Trump Administration after the earlier announcement, but we were worried that we’d be kind of an odd duck afterwards” being the only Job Corps center under the Department of Agriculture, Everett said.
“It’s great news in general for students, staff members and administrators all across the country, as well as the communities affected. Job Corps is one of the most effective governmental entities. These are the programs we need to keep intact," Everett said.
In May, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced the 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers operated by the Forest Service would either be closed or transferred to the Department of Labor, where they would likely be privatized.
Anaconda Job Corps was one of the nine initially selected to be closed. On June 3, Daines said he had secured a decision from President Trump to keep the center open and operating as a CCC.
Trapper Creek Job Corps near Darby was slated to be transferred to the Department of Labor. All of its employees were told they would lose their jobs. Residents in Ravalli County, including the Ravalli County Commission, rallied in support of the Trapper Creek Job Corps center.
“This is a big win for Montana and our country,” U.S. Senator Steve Daines, R-Mont., said in a statement Wednesday. “I’m glad that President Trump, Secretary Perdue and Secretary Acosta listened and are keeping these critical centers open and under the Department of Agriculture.
“Our job corps centers are critical,” Daines said. “They provide hundreds of jobs in Montana and provide future generation of young Montanans the tools they need to succeed in the workforce. I greatly appreciate President Trump working with me to save these Montana jobs.”
U.S. Senator Jon Tester applauded the announcement.
“Suddenly, without any real reason or justification, the President pulled the plug on one of the most successful initiatives in rural America and my office was flooded with stories and objections from Montanans,” Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement. “That’s why I fought so hard to reverse this decision and today I’m extremely proud to have helped make their voices heard.
“But too often this Administration acts without regard for the real-world consequences of their decisions — consequences overwhelmingly suffered by folks in rural America,” Tester said. “I’ll continue to fight for the hardworking Montanans and businesses that rely on Job Corps centers like Trapper Creek and Anaconda, so we can make sure they’re around for future generations.”
Trapper Creek's Casterson said he expected Thursday's meeting to be emotional.
"My job humbles me on a regular basis," Casterson said. "It reminds me that all of us are not all that different. We all want the same things. You look at our students, many of whom have never been seen as having value or worth.
"We give them an opportunity and they show us all what they are worth," he said. "That's what the CCC is all about. It's about community."
Montana Standard Editor David McCumber contributed to this story.