PLSC members do a loon survey with Glacier ranger Jami. Photo courtesy of PLSC

This summer marked the triumphant return of the Piikuni Lands Service Corps (PLSC), on hiatus the last few years due to the pandemic. The program, which engages Blackfeet youth and young adults in paid conservation work, reached an important milestone this year: for the first time, the crew was fully led and managed by Blackfeet staff.

“We are thrilled to have this level of representation and are grateful for our leaders, coordinator, and liaison in creating a more culturally enriching and identity-affirming experience,” said Stacey Williams, Vice President of Programs for the Montana Conservation Corps.

A corps member gardening.

Gardening with traditional foods. Photo: PLSC

This year’s crew was able to accomplish an impressive list of projects: loon monitoring in Glacier National Park, trail work in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, invasive species eradication with the Glacier Two Medicine Alliance, fencing work with The Nature Conservancy, and building beaver mimicry dams with Blackfeet Fish and Game.

In addition to their accomplishments in the field, the PLSC crew members were able to develop important job skills, find their next step in education, and deepen their connection to ancestral land. 80% of the crew’s work was done on Piikani ancestral land, and work with the Blackfeet Community College community garden connected their projects to traditional food systems and practices.

Corps members doing trail work.

Clearing and maintaining trails. Photo: PLSC

With support from the Glacier National Park Conservancy, the crew leaders were able to participate in a 4-week Leadership Development Program. According to Williams, the program “significantly upskilling them in their leadership skills, technical knowledge, field skills, and risk management practices.”

Joe Jessepe, the Piikani Lands Crew Liason, explained that “the program helps people figure out what kind of work unlocks their passion.” One 2019 participant discovered a love for wildlife biology, which they now study at Salish Kootenai College. Jessepe helped another participant navigate enrolling at Blackfeet Community College.

“It’s about exposing crew members to real conservation work while building experience and comradery,” Jessepe added, “and we plan on doing it again.”

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