Avon Fire 2 in Weber County, 2013

Members of the Weber Basin Job Corps Fire Crew hold a brief meeting on the line of the Avon 2 Fire in Ogden Valley on Thursday, July, 11, 2013. The fire started the previous afternoon and grew to 95 acres by Thursday morning.

SOUTH WEBER — The Trump administration has dropped plans for deep cuts in Forest Service Job Corps programs amid heavy opposition from Congress, unions and others.

The development Thursday is good news for the Weber Basin Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center, which would have been turned over to a private contractor.

Weber Basin’s award-winning firefighter program is a key trainer and supplier of wildland firefighters in the region.

The Departments of Labor and Agriculture announced in a prepared statement the controversial Job Corps changes scheduled to take effect in September would be at least delayed.

“For the time being, USDA does not intend to transfer these centers to DOL to allow management to determine a pathway that will maximize opportunity and results for students, minimize disruptions, and improve overall performance and integrity,” the statement said in part.

The Forest Service, which is run by the USDA, will review its operations “to determine the appropriate course of action, keeping in mind the USFS mission, the students we serve and the American taxpayers,” the statement added.

The cabinet agencies announced in late May that nine Job Corps Centers run by the Forest Service would be closed and 16 others, including Weber Basin, would be taken over by contractors employed by the Department of Labor.

The move set off a furious opposition campaign by the American Federation of Government Employees Union, while 50 congressmen and senators, including Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, urged the agencies to reconsider.

“I think this is a great day for the democratic republic to show that if the populace sees something is going in the wrong direction, they can let the government know, hey, this isn’t right,” Walter Johnston, vice president of AFGE Local 3284, said Thursday.

The local represents workers at Weber Basin, which has about 60 employees.

Johnston said the bipartisan opposition from Congress against the cuts “proves that the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers program is actually a public service that makes sense.”

He said the centers train thousands of underprivileged students to take productive roles in society, including a prominent part in protecting communities from wildfires.

Donica Bigelow, Weber Basin’s director, said Weber Basin firefighter students spent more than 22,000 hours on the fire lines during the 2018 wildfire season.

The Trump administration said in May that a review of the Job Corps centers run by the Forest Service showed inefficiencies. It said those not closed would run better under the Department of Labor.

Bishop, the union and the National Job Corps Association disputed those conclusions and questioned data used by the cabinet agencies.

Utah’s other Job Corps center, the Clearfield center, is operated by Centerville-based Management and Training Corp. under contract with the Labor Department.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!