Volunteers Bring Unprecedented Service During Unprecedented Times

Volunteers are essential to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The things they do are as different as the volunteers themselves. They may be the person you meet on the trail at a National Wildlife Refuge, or they may be helping with spawning at a National Fish Hatchery. They may also be citizen scientists in the field, looking for Fender’s blue butterflies or counting tufted puffins.

In an average year, about 8,600 volunteers donate more than 190,000 hours in the Service’s Columbia Pacific Northwest and Pacific Islands regions.

Can we all agree, however, 2020 was anything but average?

The same can be said for our volunteers. In the remarkable year that was 2020, more than 5,200 dedicated volunteers donated nearly 124,000 hours of their time in 2020. That’s the equivalent of 15,500 eight-hour days and about 60 full-time employees pitching in across Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.

Our volunteers persevered through the global coronavirus pandemic that resulted in telework, social-distancing requirements and other precautions across the nation for many people. The health of volunteers, staff and visitors always came first, forcing refuges and fish hatcheries to sometimes turn away volunteers due to safety precautions. Nonetheless, if there was something they could safely do, our volunteers did it, remaining committed to carrying out the conservation stewardship that is the hallmark of their efforts.

“It shows how dedicated our volunteers are,” said Robyn Thorson, Regional Director. “Even as we prioritized safety for our volunteers, staff and visitors, they continued to help protect and enhance our natural resources and public lands. Words can’t fully express our appreciation and gratitude to our amazing volunteers. Our volunteers are our champions, and their dedication during the last year reflects the close ties we have with our local communities.”

This week is National Volunteer Week (April 18–24, 2021) and the Service is celebrating our volunteers by sharing some of their stories with you. You’ll read about Isabel Justiniano, who volunteers at the Latino Engagement Program at the Willamette Valley NWR Complex; three volunteers from Hanalei NWR who have been working with canines to sniff out avian botulism; Kathleen Sayce and Todd Weidgart, who helped design and plant the wild lawn at the new Willapa Bay NWR headquarters; plus many more. Check out their stories this week on our Medium blog, Facebook pages and Twitter feed.

The Service has three main types of volunteer opportunities: interpretation and education volunteers who walk trails and staff kiosks; habitat volunteers who work behind the scenes planting, removing invasive species or spawning fish; and maintenance volunteers who keep trails clear and help around the facilities.

“We had to tell a lot of volunteers that we didn’t have opportunities last year due to safety precautions, and they were very disappointed,” said Dawn Harris, the visitor services manager at Oregon Coast NWR Complex. “We worked to find safe opportunities for our volunteers, and were able to do so for many, particularly those who focused on habitat work. Our volunteers did miss it though, and it has taken a toll on them not being able to be in the field working with people and wildlife.”

Harris has discovered a silver lining to it as Oregon Coast NWR Complex has started the process of identifying potential volunteers.

“I recently put up an ad on Volunteer.gov and I was bombarded with applications. I closed it the next day because I had so many,” Harris said. “I called people and they said, ‘I can’t wait! When can we start?’ They are very enthusiastic and ready. Hopefully we’ll be able to have volunteers again soon because they are so excited to help and give back to their public lands.”

To volunteer, contact your local National Wildlife Refuge or Fish and Aquatic Conservation station or hatchery. You can also email our regional volunteer coordinator Chelsea McKinney at Chelsea_McKinney@fws.gov for more information.

By Brent Lawrence, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service public affairs officer based in the Columbia Pacific Northwest Regional Office in Portland, Oregon.

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Conservation stories from one of the world’s most ecologically diverse regions.

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