We’re excited to share the news that Groundswell Conservancy secured funding from Madison Community Foundation to help diversify the conservation field. The Conservation Academy (originally called the Conservation Graduate Crew) helps outdoors-minded young adults learn crucial job skills to help them pursue careers in the conservation field. This program was jointly developed by Groundswell Conservancy and Operation Fresh Start (OFS). It’s modeled after the successful OFS program that prepares young adults for careers in construction.

The $45,000 grant from the Madison Community Foundation will cover the cost of professional certifications for crew members over the next three years. This includes training in chainsaw safety, pesticide application, prescribed fire, and emergency response protocols.

Tom Linfield, Vice President of Community Impact at Madison Community Foundation (MCF), says the effort will broaden the field of conservation to include traditionally underrepresented groups. “MCF is proud to support this important work to reduce barriers that young people and people of color face in getting jobs as land managers and ecological technicians,” he says. MCF recently featured this new program in their spring newsletter.

Kaden Fischer of Madison is a Conservation Academy participant who is eyeing a career as a park ranger. “It’s a chance to work hard outside and make money at the same time,” says Fischer, 19. “Just getting this much exercise is awesome.”

Cory Rich, Operation Fresh Start Conservation and Construction Manager, says partners like Groundswell are excited to work with OFS since 80 percent of program participants are people of color and 73 percent are from low-income backgrounds.

“These crews are bringing some badly needed diversity to the conservation field,” he says. But it’s no picnic. Shifts are long, with crew members putting in 10-hour days, four days a week and then getting 3-day weekends. Timeliness and enthusiasm for the job are demanded.

“We make sure they know if you want to make this a career, it’s going to involve a lot of hard work,” says Caroline Zimmerman, conservation crew supervisor for OFS.

The first Conservation Academy Crew began work this past fall in partnership with the Wisconsin DNR, City of Madison Engineering, Dane County Parks, UW Arboretum, the Nature Conservancy, and Groundswell Conservancy to complete important conservation projects at local parks, trails and natural areas.