March 29, 2016 - When your company suggests you and your coworkers volunteer for a day at a nearby national wildlife refuge, you may be surprised where that leads:
But that’s just for starters. What you may not expect is falling in love with the place…or taking a personal stake in wildlife conservation.
Refuge staff have seen it happen time and again as the popularity of such corporate initiatives grows. A short list of firms that reward workers for volunteering at refuges includes Brother International Corporation, Canon Inc., DTE Energy Co., General Motors, Nike, Inc., OMRON Scientific Technologies, Inc., Patagonia, Inc., The Home Depot, The North Face, Inc. and Wells Fargo & Company. [See longer list below of some corporate-refuge initiatives.] Some company teams help on their own time; some work on the company clock.
At Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, a crew from The North Face’s Lincoln City store came to the refuge 10 times last year, with the company’s blessing. The eight-to-ten crew members helped restore coastal prairie by planting early blue violets, checkermallow and native grasses for a 2017 re-introduction of the threatened Oregon silverspot butterfly.
“I think every single one of them came to the refuge for the first time as part of this planting,” says visitor services manager Dawn Harris. “Now some of them have been back with their families to walk the trail and show it off. They want to be here for any event tied to the prairie restoration. They ask me, ‘When are the butterflies coming?’ because they feel invested in the project.”
Benefits for participating companies often exceed expectations, too. Brother International executives in Bridgewater, New Jersey, cite their work at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge as an example. Last April, a 33-person Brother team visited the refuge for the fourth year in a row to clear trail and pull invasive plants.
“We started out wanting to do something for the community,” says Doriana Allyn, senior environmental health and safety manager. Inside the company, the goodwill spread. “When employees get to know each other by doing something [beneficial] together, there’s a wonderful gift that happens,” she says. “We do good work for the refuge, and the company gets something back in return from the camaraderie that gets built up.”
Some companies frame volunteer initiatives as team building. Some couch them as community service. Either way, 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.”
Even occasional missteps don’t seem to dim volunteers’ enthusiasm. One day 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 invasive French broom, a 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.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov, or connect with us through any of these social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
Photos: Flickr album, company teams on national wildlife refuges here.
Some company teams and the refuges where they volunteered in 2015: