Company Spirit on the Refuge
Some businesses organize employee volunteer days at national wildlife refuges

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Across America, corporate employees are going green in a new way. They’re volunteering alongside their coworkers at national wildlife refuges, clearing trails and planting native flowers, with enthusiastic backing from their supervisors.

When your employer suggests you join a company volunteer day at a national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

Learn more about national wildlife refuge
, you may find yourself:

  • Clearing a recreation trail;
  • Planting host plants for a rare butterfly;
  • Collecting prairie seeds; or 
  • Hauling off invasive plants.

Watch out or you may fall in love with the place – and discover a new passion for wildlife conservation. It’s been known to happen.

FedEx employees plant native flowers at the entrance of a multi-use trail at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia. Audubon Pennsylvania helped organize the event.

Big Names Pitch In
Companies that have sent teams of volunteers to help at refuges include Brother International, Canon, DTE Energy, FedEx, Ford, General Motors, Monsanto, Nike, OMRON Scientific Technologies, Patagonia, The Home Depot, The North Face, and Wells Fargo & Company. Some employees help on their own time; some work on the company clock.

Employees from The Home Depot’s Richfield, Minnesota, store collect seeds of native prairie plants at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

A Sense of Pride
In Oregon, employees from The North Face’s Lincoln City store help out several times a year at three nearby coastal refuges.

“You walk away with a really good feeling,” says store manager Jennifer Hickson. “It started out being just our team. Now we bring our families. They want to be part of it, too. Because they hear you say, ‘Yeah, it was a hard day. Yeah, I’m sore. But you wouldn’t believe the feeling of accomplishment, the feeling you’re making a difference.’ ”

Employees from The North Face’s Lincoln City store clear invasive Scotch broom at Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The group hand-sawed and removed 10 truckloads of the plant.

In 2015, crew members cut and removed 10 truckloads of invasive Scotch broom from Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge, near a new nature trail and a canoe/kayak launch.

“Before these folks came out to help, they didn’t know this place existed, even though they live and work close by,” says refuge visitor services manager Dawn Harris. “They were very excited to hear you will soon be able to launch a canoe from here and go on a nature trail. One of them said, ‘Oh, this is going to be a perfect short walk to take with my kids.’ ”

Brother International manager of product development Kevin Haughtwout, left, and administrative assistant Cristy Rosario plant native spicebush, the host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly, at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

Corporate Gains
Participating companies see benefits, too – like higher staff morale. Just ask execs at Brother International, based in Bridgewater, New Jersey. For five years in a row, the company has sent a work crew to nearby Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

When employees work alongside one another to restore a landscape, “there’s a wonderful gift that happens,” says Doriana Allyn, the company’s former senior environmental health and safety manager. “We do good work for the refuge,” she says, “and the company gets something back in return from the camaraderie that gets built up.”

Luann Coen, senior deduction specialist at Brother International, gives a ride to Miroslawa Gehman, senior deductions manager, at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge during a volunteer event at the refuge.

Whether companies frame their initiatives as community service or team building exercises, refuges welcome the efforts.

“Absolutely, we like it,” says visitor services manager Jonathan Rosenberg at Great Swamp Refuge. “It brings visitors to the refuge, gets work done on the ground, sells our mission and gets our conservation message out there in the corporate world. It’s all good stuff.”

Nancy Armstrong, right, and a co-worker at OMRON Scientific Technologies carry off invasive French broom from Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Refuge.

Strong Returns
Even minor missteps don’t dim volunteers’ enthusiasm. One spring, outdoor enthusiast Nancy Armstrong joined co-workers from OMRON Scientific Technologies at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Their task: clearing and bagging French broom, an invasive woody shrub. Armstrong left with a sense of accomplishment and something else: a nasty case of poison oak. “My entire left forearm was covered with welts for a week.”

She laughs it off. “It was a fantastic souvenir,” she says, “but you know what? I’ll be back next year … I was amazed at how beautiful the refuge was, how wild it was and with this beautiful view of the bay. It was amazing.”

Some companies and the national wildlife refuges where their teams have volunteered.

Best BuyArthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee Refuge, FL
Brother InternationalGreat Swamp Refuge, NJ
CanonValle De Oro Refuge, NM
Ceridian Human Capital Management Minnesota Valley Refuge
DTE Energy Detroit River Refuge, MI
FedExJohn Heinz Refuge at Tinicum, PA
Ford MotorDetroit River Refuge, MI
General Motors  Shiawassee Refuge, MI
HP Steigerwald Lake Refuge, WA
Incisive Software Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Refuge
Marriott International’s Fairway VillasEdwin B. Forsythe Refuge, NJ
MonsantoNeal Smith Refuge, IA
Nike  Ridgefield Refuge, WA
OMRON Scientific Technologies  Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Refuge
Patagonia   Balcones Canyonlands Refuge, TX
Pelican Pub & Brewery    Ridgefield Refuge, WA
Samson           Anahuac Refuge, TX
Syngenta Corp.     Columbia Refuge, WA
The Home Depot     Minnesota Valley Refuge
The North Face, Lincoln City store  Siletz Bay Refuge, OR
Nestucca Bay Refuge, OR
Oregon Islands Refuge
The Principal Financial Group   Neal Smith Refuge, IA
Thermo Fisher Scientific    Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Refuge, CA
U-Haul International           Eastern Neck Refuge, MD
Wells Fargo & Company     Neal Smith Refuge, IA


A team from DTE Energy Corporation poses at Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge after removing chainlink fence. Team members also installed a split rail fence and began decking an observation platform.

See a photo album of private company teams volunteering on national wildlife refuges.

Monsanto employees transplant more than 2,500 plants and plant nearly 600 others at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa.

Story Tags

Buildings, facilities and structures
Connecting people with nature
Habitat restoration
Invasive species
Wildlife refuges
Wildlife restoration

Recreational Activities