State looking to fill 300 WCC environmental positions

OLYMPIA — The state Department of Ecology is seeking to fill 300 full-time environmental positions that will be placed in locations across Washington state as part of the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) program.

The recruitment is being made possible because of a $1.8 million federal AmeriCorps grant, according to Laura Schlabach, outreach coordinator with the Department of Ecology. The money comes from the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that oversees national volunteer service programs.

Schlabach said work crews are based all over the state. Eleven of the positions to be filled are based in Belfair. Those crews will be part of the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group. One job in Port Orchard, an individual placement position — or internship — will be partnered with a sponsoring organization, the Puget Sound Restoration Fund.

The Port Orchard-based organization is involved in hands-on projects to restore species that have diminished in the area, such as abalone and sea cucumber. A crew also will be in Tahuya working on Department of Natural Resources trails, Schlabach said.

“This is an opportunity for young adults and military veterans to gain hands-on experience implementing environmental restoration projects, engaging in environmental education and providing disaster response services for communities across the state,” Schlabach said.

WCC is recruiting young adults ages 18-25, as well as Gulf War Era II veterans, reservists and dependents with no age restrictions. Those selected will begin their 11-month service term on Oct. 2.

In addition to career experience, benefits include a scholarship, the AmeriCorps Education Award of $5,815, after completing 11 months of service and 1,700 hours. Full-time members are eligible for educational loan forbearance, interest payments, health insurance and Washington state minimum wage throughout the year.

The improving economy hasn’t reduced the number of applicants applying for the AmeriCorps positions, Schlabach said.

“Recruitment has been strong for quite a while,” she noted. “The economy has improved a little bit, so some people do opt for higher pay elsewhere, but we now offer competitive wages since Washington’s minimum wage is $11 an hour.”

She said the agency’s goal is to have seven or eight applicants for each position. “We’re looking for a variety of skills and backgrounds so that people can learn from each other,” Schlabach said.

“It is incredible to watch our members grow into confident, capable leaders during their service,” said Gordon White, who oversees Ecology’s community conservation for shoreline, wetlands, floodplains and WCC activities.