Company Spirit on the Refuge

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

Day 2 FedEd volunteer
FedEx employees plant native flowers at the entrance of a new multi-use trail extension at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia. The extension will connect the refuge with local communities. Audubon Pennsylvania helped organize the event. (Photo: USFWS)

When your employer suggests you join a company volunteer day at a national wildlife refuge, you may find yourself:

  • Clearing a recreation trail;
  • Planting host plants for a rare butterfly;
  • Cleaning a beach of marine debris; or
  • Sawing and hauling off invasive Scotch broom.
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.

Home Depot Richfield Minnesota
Employees from The Home Depot’s Richfield, Minnesota, store collect seeds of native prairie plants at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Sarah Inouye-Leas/USFWS)

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.

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

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.’ ”

North Face employees at Siletz Bay
Employees from The North Face’s Lincoln City store clear Scotch broom at Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Dawn Harris/USFWS)

Last spring, crew members cut and removed 10 truckloads of invasive Scotch broom from Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where public access is set to expand this fall. New additions will include a 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.’ ”

North Face in Lincoln City
The North Face employees pause from loading Scotch broom cuttings onto a truck at Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The group hand-sawed and removed 10 truckloads of the invasive shrub. (Photo: Dawn Harris/USFWS)

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 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 and Miroslawa Gehama
Luann Coen, senior deduction specialist at Brother International, gives a ride to Miroslawa Gehman, senior deductions manager, at Great Swamp Refuge. (Photo: Kai H. Fan)

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.”

Kevin Haughtwout and Christy Rosario
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 Refuge in New Jersey. (Photo: Kai H Fan)

Strong returns
Even minor missteps don’t dim volunteers’ enthusiasm. Last May, 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.”

OMRON Scientific Technologies volunteers
Nancy Armstrong, right, and a co-worker at OMRON Scientific Technologies carry off invasive French broom from Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Refuge. (Photo: Cindy Lubinsky)

Volunteer teams from these companies and others have helped out on national wildlife refuges. Next to each company name is the national wildlife refuge or refuges where its teams have volunteered. The list is not exhaustive.

Best Buy Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee Refuge, FL
Brother International Great Swamp Refuge, NJ
Canon Valle De Oro Refuge, NM
Ceridian Human Capital Management  Minnesota Valley Refuge
DTE Energy Detroit River Refuge, MI
FedEx John Heinz Refuge at Tinicum, PA
Ford Motor Detroit 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 Villas Edwin 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


DTE Energy Corporation volunteers
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. (Photo: Brian Moccia/DTE Energy)

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

Compiled by, September 21, 2016