HESPERIA, California – Representatives with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District and the Southern California Mountains Foundation celebrated a new partnership agreement during a signing ceremony Oct. 17 at the John Swisher Community Center in Hesperia.
“I am pleased to be here today to acknowledge and commemorate this Cooperative Partnership Agreement – the first one of its kind in this region – between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Southern California Mountains Foundation,” said Col. Andrew Baker, commander of the Corps’ LA District.
The agreement represents an opportunity to provide training, educational opportunities and environmental stewardship services at Mojave River Dam and Reservoir for participants in the Urban Conservation Corps – a youth service agency, established by the Southern California Mountains Foundation, that provides job training and skill development for young adults in local communities.
The agreement allows participants to gain experience with project planning, development and implementation on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ project lands.
Built in 1971 by the Corps as a flood-risk reduction system, Mojave River Dam protects the lives and property of millions of people in the area.
The dam and reservoir have become staples in the community, Baker said.
Families visit the area to recreate and enjoy the historic Pacific Crest Trail, a National Scenic Trail that runs from Mexico to Canada, which passes alongside the dam. The area also is one of the few places in the nation that visitors can view Joshua Trees, desert flora and fauna and wildlife that can be found in the area, including endangered species, like the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and the Arroyo Toad.
In recent years, the dam and reservoir have been the subject of vandalism; illegal activities, including off-road vehicle driving; and, in some cases, fatalities.
During the five-year term of the agreement between the two agencies, services will be requested by a task order as funds, work and educational project opportunities become available.
Proposed future projects include restoration, such as the installation of barriers to protect critical habitat; GPS monitoring; and public outreach and interpretation.
Each specific project proposed under the agreement will be evaluated by both the Corps and the foundation to make certain it meets the goals of education and stewardship.
Stacy Gorin, executive director of the Southern California Mountains Foundation, said she is looking forward to introducing the next generation of conservation leaders to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“I think traditionally, our groups in San Bernardino and Coachella Valley have not always been introduced to what the Army Corps does and also what job opportunities there are, and how it is part of the climate impact and climate resiliency work that needs to happen within our communities, and the importance of connecting these communities to these resources,” she said.
Victor Gonzales, a 21-year-old from San Bernardino and a member of the Urban Conservation Corps, said he has been interested in working with nature since high school.
During the two-and-a-half months he has been with the conservation group, Gonzales has learned how to use a chainsaw, render first aid, perform CPR and learn how to use a tourniquet, he said, which he was able to put into practice when a food service worker got a gash while working.
“The UCC helped me discover skills I never thought I could learn,” he said.
Gonzales said he believes the partnership between the two agencies will teach himself and others more about conservation.
I think we’re going to learn some new skills about conservation – building a fence, cutting trees and to learn why we’re doing this,” he said. “This is something I see myself doing until retirement, and, if I do have kids in the future, I hope to teach them about conservation and have them out in nature, instead of being inside all day.”
Following the signing ceremony, participants were invited to tour the Mojave River Dam.
Among the participants were Henry Csaposs, LA District park ranger, who is now on a detail with the Department of Defense’s Climate Action Team, and Connie Chan Le, former LA District park ranger, who now works as an environmental planner in the Civil and Public Works Branch with the Corps’ Honolulu District. Both were instrumental in getting the Cooperative Partnership Agreement off the ground – working on the agreement for the last three years.
“This was really important to come out because Henry and I had been working on this for a few years now,” Chan Le said. “We really are grateful for the opportunity to work with a great partner like the Southern California Mountains Foundation – that is an expert in trail maintenance and restoration, as well as communication with the local community here in this area, so we definitely wouldn’t want to miss it for the world.”
“It’s been a journey, and it’s really rewarding to be here today and see all of these folks from the different agencies come together and have the commander here,” Csaposs added. “It means a lot. Connie and I are moving onto new jobs, so it’s really rewarding to see this capstone to mark the progress.”
Other participants included representatives from the Corps’ LA District; U.S. Representative Jay Obernolte’s office; San Bernardino National Forest; U.S. Bureau of Land Management; San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department; Urban Conservation Corps of the Inland Empire; Southern California Mountains Foundation; and Hesperia Recreation and Park District.
“Working with our partners, our goal is to ensure public safety at our dams, to protect critical infrastructure and habitat for threatened and endangered species in the area and ensure this area can continue to be enjoyed by future generations,” Baker said. “I am excited to commemorate this new, historic partnership between the Corps and the Southern California Mountains Foundation and look forward to working with all of you!”