We’re facing an intersection of high unemployment and environmental needs. Let’s respond the same way we did last time, nearly 90 years ago.

In the 1930s, America had entered the Great Depression. Unemployment soared. 

In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps, or the CCC. The program hired young unemployed men for projects in forestry, soil conservation and recreation. By 1942, the 3.4 million participants in “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” had planted more than 3 billion trees, built hundreds of parks and wildlife refuges (including Highlands Hammock State Park) and completed thousands of miles of trails and roads.

Today, young people are facing high unemployment again. Nearly 7.7 million American workers younger than 30 are now unemployed. Three million dropped out of the labor force in just the past month.

Meanwhile, our environmental needs are different, but the solutions may be similar. Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, could be combated by planting oxygen-producing trees. Erosion and water pollution could be stemmed by planting riparian buffer strips. Forests destroyed by bugs need to be managed to prevent large scale forest fires, which threaten humans, structures and air quality.

Here’s a bonus: Many young people are passionate about saving the environment. They might just be the most enthusiastic participants in a jobs program ever.

Here’s another bonus: There are thousands of shovel-ready projects ready to go, with only money and people needed to get started immediately. Our national parks and wildlife refuges have $20 billion in deferred maintenance ready to be tackled.

We even have the employment infrastructure ready through programs like Americorps’ National Civilian Community Corps.

We could argue that this is a much better form of stimulus program than simply writing checks to every American. We understand the importance of the federal government’s recent assistance package because of our need of quick relief. But the next wave of assistance could be so much more effective.

There is important work to be done and we have young, enthusiastic people to do it. Let’s create a new and better version of the CCC.

An editorial from the Madison Daily Leader, South Dakota.