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By Jim Cornelius
News Editor 

Youth plant trees in Sisters Country


Last updated 4/12/2022 at Noon

Cody Rheault

Kodee Sweat was part of a COIC work crew out planting ponderosa seedlings south of Sisters last week.

The wind was whipping off the freshly snow-clad Three Sisters, and the terrain was rocky and uneven, choked with fallen trees that have come down in the wake of the 2012 Pole Creek Fire.A small crew of tree planters strode across the rough country, shovel in hand and bags full of ponderosa pine seedlings on their hips.

Mason and Ethan Gardner, both 17, and 16-year-old Kodee Sweat were in their second week of a planting project conducted under the auspices of the Sisters Ranger District. On Thursday, April 7, they had been working in balmy 70-degree conditions in the Metolius Basin. On Friday, they were on the wind-swept ridgelines south of Sisters and west of Three Creek Road, with temperatures in the low 40s.

Working in less-than-optimal conditions was part of the gig for the crew from Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council’s (COIC) Youth Compass program.

Matt Mahoney, a COIC youth employment counselor, was out supervising the crew. He explained that the program builds job skills and work ethic, showing up on time and doing what’s asked of them.

“To teach them to be the best employee they can be — that’s the goal,” Mahoney said. “For this project, it’s more about being resilient.”

The teenagers were working for $14 an hour — and credit toward a high school diploma.

Josh Lagalo, youth employment and training manager, explained the program for The Nugget:

“COIC’s Youth Compass (YC) program is both an alternative education program and employment and training program,” he said. “We partner with local school districts to provide dropout prevention and recovery, credit recovery, and GED prep and testing, along with many other wraparound services funded by both federal and state grants. One of our program pieces is our YC field crews that operate out of Bend, La?Pine and Prineville. Eligible youth go into the field three days per week with highly qualified YC staff and receive hands-on work training while engaging in scheduled field projects.

Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce

“Youth are between 16-24 and are paid an hourly wage, earning school credits along with highly valuable work skills training, all while enrolled in school, as they attend class the other two days per week.”

If Friday’s work was about resilience with challenges from the elements and the terrain, the crew was passing the test. They worked quickly and efficiently, covering the terrain at a rapid clip — and in good spirits.

Sisters Oregon Guide

“I like it,” Ethan Gardner said. “I enjoy it a lot, actually.”

Scott Sweat said they were learning “a lot about nature” as they worked.

Cody Rheault

A COIC tree-planting crew worked in rocky soil on Friday, planting in the Pole Creek burn area.

Each crew member dug holes and pushed in seedlings at approximately 15-foot intervals — “five decent-sized steps,” as Mason Gardner put it.

On Friday, they were expected to get about 500 seedlings into the ground.

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Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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