Veterans aid fish recovery, gain work experience through Vet Corps

The Veterans Fisheries Corps Program is providing veterans with training and natural resources work experience restoring fish habitat and conducting research and monitoring. It began in 2012 through a partnership between the California Conservation Corps (CCC), NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Forest Service, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The program assists with salmon and steelhead recovery in ways that NOAA Fisheries and its partner agencies otherwise could not afford, while positioning veterans to compete for permanent positions in the natural resources fields. The program began in Northern California and is now expanding to Southern California. So far, 12 veterans have completed the program. Four veterans employed by the program have subsequently secured jobs in related fields.

man with netGarrett Dennis, 25, is an Army veteran who recently began the program. We talked with him about how he got interested in the Vet Corps and how he likes it so far.

Where did you serve?

I joined the Army in 2007 and was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. First I was stationed in Texas, then in Iraq, and then I was stationed in California until 2012.

What interested you in this Vet Corps program?

I was looking online for jobs and I saw this one especially for veterans. Nothing really called to me like this one. I was interested in becoming a park ranger or game warden and when I talked to a warden he said, “You know what, this would be a great way to get started.” The ad talked about hiking in the woods and doing spawner surveys, so I signed up. I’m really enjoying it now.

What do you like about the program?

I had two weeks of orientation with the CCC and then I started working. I like the scientific aspect, the outdoors, and working with wildlife. I’ve always been interested in conservation, so I’ve really enjoyed that part of it.

How do you think the program will benefit you?

This is a great experience and should look very good on my resume. It looks good to have this kind of experience under my belt. This is pushing me to go back to school to get more of the classes I need.

What have you been working on so far?

Mostly spawner surveys, so we have to understand what to look for and learn fish identification. There is also a weir where we mark fish, take scale samples, and attach a PIT tag to help track them. I’ve handled a few there, which has also been very interesting. All this information helps evaluate the health of the population so the managers can make good decisions.

Are you interested in pursuing a career in the field?

Yes, I’m still very interested in becoming a game warden. I’m very glad this is a life experience I’ve had and I think what I’m learning will be very valuable.

Home page photo and above, Army veteran Garrett Dennis working at a fish weir. Photo courtesy Garrett Dennis.

Learn More, or contact Bob Paglucio in NOAA Fisheries’ Arcata office at 707-825-5166.