The Lake Tahoe Community College (LTCC) in South Lake Tahoe is making great strides to educate and train the skilled workforce necessary to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration and management in our region – and beyond – and has secured major funding to support its new Forestry Program and long-successful Fire Academy.
LTCC initiated the Lake Tahoe Basin Fire Academy in 2006 in response to the local need to train wildland firefighters and help fill the ranks of fire agencies around Lake Tahoe. The program is offered through partnerships with the Lake Valley Fire Protection District, South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue, Eastern Alpine County Fire Rescue, and Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District. It is recognized by the California State Fire Marshal and the State Board of Fire Services as an Accredited Regional Training Program.
LTCC’s Forestry Program just launched in September 2022 thanks to funding from the California Tahoe Conservancy and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) as part of the California Climate Investments Program. The interdisciplinary and field-based program provides students with an understanding of forestry principles and skills required in the profession. Students earn an Associate of Science (AS) degree along with industry recognized trainings and skills certificates within two years of full-time college attendance. Graduates are capable of assisting with forest management, planning, and implementation work with local, state, and federal natural resource agencies. Some potential Tahoe-based employers include CalFire, the US Forest Service, the California Tahoe Conservancy, the Tahoe Resource Conservation District, private forestry contractors, and other agencies that are part of the Tahoe Fire & Fuels Team.
LTCC’s Forestry and Fire Programs help provide a skilled workforce to conduct critical fire mitigation and forest treatment work locally and across the western United States, where extended and increasingly dangerous wildfire seasons necessitate a significantly larger and specifically trained labor pool.
An added bonus is that LTCC has a diverse student body. Because wildfires and other emergencies affect scores of non-English speakers regionally and nationally, LTCC’s Forestry and Fire Programs actively recruit women, people of color and Spanish speakers; it considers Spanish language skills an especially valuable and marketable asset for firefighters to possess, as do fire departments that serve large Latino populations. As employers in the forest sector seek to diversify their workforce and ability to serve diverse communities, graduates of LTCC’s Forestry and Fire Programs help meet this need.
California’s forestry and fire safety labor sectors have the potential to grow into a $39 billion industry, but projected workforce shortages in these areas are in the thousands. LTCC is part of a larger, four-year project with the Foundation for California Community Colleges to address the labor issue.
The Foundation applied for and was awarded a $21.5 million Good Jobs Challenge Grant (funded by President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, administered by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration) for its “California Resilient Careers in Forestry” proposal to build economic and climate resilience in the state’s forested, rural communities by increasing the skilled staff for critical forestry work.
As one the Foundation’s four implementation partners, LTCC has received $1.2 million to support its Forestry and Fire Program. LTCC is using the funding to add staff and purchase state of the art equipment and apparatus for its the Forestry and Fire Programs.
“This is a big piece of the funding puzzle needed at LTCC to educate the skilled workforce California needs to combat increasingly dangerous fire seasons, and especially in our region,” said LTCC Superintendent/President Jeff DeFranco.
In addition to this funding from the Foundation, LTCC was recently awarded three grants from local foundations to support its Forestry and Fire programs.
LTCC received a $100,000 grant from the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation’s (TTCF) Forest Futures program to offset expensive equipment and gear costs for its Lake Tahoe Basin Fire Academy student-cadets. Forest Futures is a three-year, $30 million comprehensive playbook that can be replicated by other communities to align local organizations around minimizing the risk of extreme wildfires through better preparation, investment in forest health and infrastructure, workforce development, and the diversification of local economies.
“There is much to do, but we need people to do the work,” said Stacy Caldwell, CEO of TTCF. “We are delighted to partner with LTCC to encourage the next generation of forest workers to meet the demand. Our workforce development grants and collaborative efforts seek to solve persistent labor shortages by training people with the skills necessary to fight fires and plan and implement forest health projects.”
The Tahoe Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports environmental improvement projects in the Tahoe Basin, has granted $34,000 in the form of $1,000 scholarships – which will cover the majority of tuition – for every student in the new Forestry Program.
The Tahoe Fund’s mission is to use the power of philanthropy to improve the Lake Tahoe environment for all to enjoy. One of the organization’s main strategic goals is to improve forest health by driving innovative solutions to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration in the Tahoe Basin through its Smartest Forest Fund.
LTCC also received a $100,000 grant from the El Dorado Community Foundation (EDCF) to help cover equipment and gear costs for Lake Tahoe Basin Fire Academy student-cadets. The EDCF is a growing non-profit dedicated to supporting numerous needs within El Dorado County, including: Environment, Education, Animal Welfare, Health, Housing, Poverty, Veterans and Seniors.
LTCC’s Forestry and Fire Programs directly address the vital need to build a stronger forest industry workforce in our region. Thankfully, California’s “premier destination community college” is also receiving crucial financial support to strengthen its offerings for up and coming forest workers. In light of these trends, the future of our forests, economy and communities seems greener indeed.