Our forests demand immediate attention to bring the threat of catastrophic wildfire under control, but lawmakers wither in the face of tens of millions of acres of National Forest in need of thinning.

Our nation and state need jobs, but lawmakers focus on extending jobless benefits and monkeying with the tax structure.

A brave voice for the West needs to rise on the federal level and demand the possible: a new Civilian Conservation Corps, focused not just on creating jobs but improving forest health.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration created the CCC in 1933, the job of making work for unemployed men in their late teens and early 20s came first. The actual work to be accomplished was an afterthought.

Today, we know the work exists. Past fire management and logging practices created fuel loads just waiting for a spark. A decade of andquot;hands offandquot; management of the forests has only compounded the problem. The result: a need to thin small trees and pile and burn slash.

Now, traditional timber sales can't hope to remedy the problem, both because the requirements for forest health can be economically onerous and because a decade of declining harvests has left the timber industry and public land managers ill-equipped to do the job.

It's time for a new CCC.

As millions of American youth graduate from high school and college and enter an uncertain job market, the time is ripe to recruit this highly-mobile workforce and put them to the task.

There is reasonable concern that Americans aren't willing to work hard the way our forefathers were, and that a new CCC would attract a wave of immigrants willing to take modest-paying jobs.

But just look at the ranks of public and private firefighting crews and you'll see the demographic the CCC would embrace: Healthy, outdoors-loving youth who need a year or three of good, hard work to build a work ethic and find their focus in life.

What about cost? Well, if the U.S. military can successfully invade nations half a world away, then surely America can organize and afford an endeavor on behalf of our own land.

Because America will spend hundreds of millions this summer to fight wildfires. And we'll spend millions again in 2004, and probably 2005. Even if we launched a new CCC today, catastrophic and costly fire seasons will plague the West for years, if not decades, to come.

But the longer we hem and haw about forest health, the longer it will take to turn back the tide.

Active management can save our forests. A CCC modeled on the military, wildland firefighting and logging camps with a dose of summer camp thrown in, for sanity's sake fits the bill.