A Talk on the Wild Side.
A volunteer and his dog are ready to take to the trails of John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. Photo by USFWS
We are celebrating National Volunteer Week and our volunteers – nearly 42,000 – who give more than 1.5 million hours to help conserve the nature of America.
Of course, volunteerism has always been a part of America.
Just ask French researcher Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited the United States in 1831.
Describing the new country growing up over the Atlantic Ocean, he wrote in Democracy in America: “I have often seen Americans make great and real sacrifices to the public welfare.”
Folks on the front lines of conservation see those sacrifices every day. Listen to just a few of them:
• “On Alligator River and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuges, volunteers provide the manpower to accomplish most of our biological and maintenance work, as well as interpretive/educational programming. They also staff our Visitor Centers 100 percent of the time, so they are literally the ‘faces’ for our national wildlife refuges! Our jobs would be impossible without them!” Bonnie Strawser, visitor services manager, Alligator River/Pea Island National Wildlife Refuges in North Carolina
Berk Moss dedicated 15 years to volunteering at Tualatin National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS
• “At Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, we depend on volunteers for so many things, from mowing around freshwater ponds to staffing the visitor contact station to working in the pollinator garden to constructing boardwalks and bridges, and so much more! We could not accomplish much of what we do without the hard work of our volunteers.” Laura A. Bonneau, visitor services manager, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas
• “Volunteers are integral to Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Working together we accomplish many things!” Sarah Inouye-Leas, volunteer coordinator, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
• “At John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia, volunteers are cherished assets to the refuge. Early this year, volunteers made up of 36 brave pups with 72 people participated in the first class of B.A.R.K. Rangers! After learning some safety tips and receiving their bandanas and certificates, the new ambassadors were ready to hit the trails! B.A.R.K. is an acronym for Bag your waste; Always wear a leash; Respect wildlife; and Know where to go. The volunteer program’s debut was a huge success in building shared stewardship and community trust with both new visitors and a longtime user group. The program will help in management efforts to keep trails clean and litter free.” David Stoughton, visitor services manager, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum
• “Our volunteers not only supplement all aspects of our work, but, in many cases, provide core work usually done by permanent staff. In 2018, we had 20,600 hours of donated time. That’s the equivalent of 10 staff members, doubling the size of our workforce.” Lori Iverson, supervisory outdoor recreation planner, National Elk Refuge in Wyoming
• "Volunteers are critical to the work and mission of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, helping staff our visitor center, assisting with environmental education programs, performing important maintenance of our facilities, and keeping our public trails clean!" Chris Barr, deputy manager, San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Or consider Salmon Camp at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Volunteers are vitally important to the refuge’s award-winning program. (At left, youth volunteer and former Salmon Camper Nia Pristas helping at camp.) At Salmon Camp, the volunteers gain almost as much as the campers.
“I feel like I will never be able to put how meaningful this summer has been into words. I know that my job here has been to teach, but I feel that I learned even more,” Ashleigh Lusher wrote at the end of her experience.
For some volunteers, their impact carries on long after their death. Berk Moss dedicated 15 years to volunteering at Tualatin National Wildlife Refuge near Portland, Oregon. Take a look at the pictures on the wall of the refuge’s Discovery Classroom and you can sense his joy of helping thousands of youth connect with nature in very real and meaningful ways. It’s a legacy that’ll live for generations.
As we celebrate National Volunteer Week, we thank those whose gifts help us do our job better. We also thank volunteers everywhere who make sure de Tocqueville’s vision of America endures.