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Natural Resources Programs


University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) developed Bootstraps, a high-risk youth program that helps teens return to school and/or gain meaningful work.


With a tighter job market, more experience and skills are becoming necessary to succeed. The transition to adulthood is a challenging time for teens. It is even more challenging for disenfranchised youth from rural, limited-resource families. Nevada has one of the highest rates in the nation of youth who are not successfully making the transition to either further education or work.

Bootstraps, a two-year-old UNCE program, targets high-risk young adults, 18-21 years of age, who are not in school or working. Research supports the need for targeting families that have the least financial resources and family support to help teens prepare for the world of work. The most vulnerable families are those headed by low-income, single females.

What Has Been Done:

The program combines work with interactive classroom instruction on life skills and career counseling. An adult job coach directs the natural resource field work. Real experiences on the job are used by the job coach to reinforce the life and social skills introduced during "school."

The teens participate in intensive safety/survival training to prepare them for physically demanding work at the isolated, mountain job sites. The work requires the ability to use hand tools and power tools including chain saws.

A pilot program with 10 teens was highly successful in teaching life skills and providing an opportunity for youth to exercise those skills in a work environment. Each work week began with five hours of instruction that includes team building, peer relations, goal setting, problem solving, self-responsibility, decision-making, resume writing, communication skills and Internet job searches. Participants are paid for a 40-hour work week that includes overnight camping at the job site. The teens are responsible for purchasing and preparing food for the week while in the field.

After the weekly classes, the group worked on environmental jobs on Nevada’s public lands, completing projects to improve wildlife habitat in remote areas of Nevada including building wildlife habitat enclosures and removing or thinning undesirable vegetation.

The Battle Mountain program doubled its field season to six months in 2007 and the crew increased to 12 individuals. The Tonopah program graduates two crews of five or six with each crew working for three months. Each program graduated 11 in 2007.

The Tonopah crew mapped and treated more than 545,000 acres of weed infestations in 2007, treating 100 acres with herbicides and monitoring the post-treatment of 1,650 acres throughout public land in five counties. The 2008 Tonopah crew completed a 12-week course that consisted of safety and technical training and fieldwork coupled with classroom time. The Battle Mountain crew helped remove pinion and juniper encroaching on sagebrush ecosystem in the Fish Creek Mountains in Lander County.

A $640,000 CSREES grant has been added to existing BLM funding to implement Bootstraps in Tonopah for the next five years where field work focuses on noxious weed control. A mentoring component will be added to the program as a follow-up for Bootstraps graduates, as well as increasing the educational outreach to participants’ families.


Bootstraps has impacted many young adults by teaching valuable skills necessary in the job market. They include chainsaw use, safety maintenance, pesticide application techniques and safety, emergency communications, BLM dispatch, satellite phones, off-road driving and many more.

Intense problem solving, diligence and continuous assessment during the first year in Tonopah resulted in a second season that is running smoothly and demonstrating impact in both human development and natural resources management. The crews have accomplished more work than expected by the BLM during the first three years of the project. As a result of the program’s success, participants have successfully entered the workforce or returned to school.

Important changes were noted in those who completed the program. During the life skills classes, participants completed portfolio tasks that were scored using a rubric designed for the program. Before the program started, most youth demonstrated an "emerging level" of development on the rubric and were able to move to a “developing level.” Several of the students demonstrated a “mature level,” the highest on the 5-point scale.

The job coach observed and evaluated each Bootstraps participant/member on 11 work-related behaviors ranging from problem-solving skills to safety and attitude. All program participants showed significant growth in these areas over the course of the program.

During 2006, a qualitative follow-up study of Bootstraps graduates was implemented that tracks their progress each year over a five-year period. Analysis of the one-year follow-up interviews revealed the following general themes.


Bureau of Land Management, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, CSREES

Contacts: Marilyn Smith, Area Youth Development Specialist, 775-738-1990

Natural Resources Programs

Programs Program Information


University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) developed Bootstraps, a high-risk youth program that helps teens return to school and/or gain meaningful work.

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