April 2016: Volunteering for Nature

~by Virginia Rhys Anson

Polar bears and koalas losing their habitats and risking extinction. Monarch numbers greatly declining. Bee colony collapse. Nature struggling. It’s quite disconcerting to witness the decline of nature while feeling helpless, as one solo person to thwart this decline.

One person cannot thwart the decline alone. However, one person can join efforts with other “one persons” to significantly impact nature’s struggles. The world of wildlife and nature offers a myriad of opportunities for us to volunteer on their behalf and to work to reverse the downward trend, perhaps saving species slated for extinction if the present policies continue unchecked.

The National Wildlife Federation

The National Wildlife Federation offers a variety of volunteer opportunities. Its most significant project is the Backyard Habitat program in which participants create a refuge for wildlife in their yards consisting of four key elements: food, water, shelter, and a place to raise young. Once these items are established in a yard, a person can register his/her yard with the NWF.

There is also the prospect of becoming a habitat steward so as to teach others how to create backyard habitats or a habitat host to oversee the endeavors of several habitat stewards. The National Wildlife Federation supplies stewards and hosts with the training and supplies they need.

The Jane Goodall Institute—Roots and Shoots

Jane Goodall is an advocate and voice for nature and is working to, among other endeavors, bring a love of and appreciation for nature to our young people who will be the future crusaders for our natural world. It is intended that Roots and Shoots will help young people to find ways to solve the problems that face our environment. It also offers resources for educators and adult leaders.

The program consists of four steps:

Engage: Find areas in communities that need to be addressed

Community Mapping: Get input from community leaders and experts and hopefully entice them to collaborate with the efforts of the Roots and Shoots unit

Take Action: Carry out the plan that the unit has designed to help remedy or improve a situation

Celebrate: Determine the impact that the work has made and celebrate the success

Cornell University Feeder Watch

Cornell University’s Project Feeder Watch allows the average citizen to essentially become a citizen scientist (covered later). The project is a “joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.” Participants count the numbers of the various bird species that visit their feeders and yards during the winter months, entering their data on the project’s website.

Participants are given a starter kit complete with instructions, a beautiful colored poster of various birds that are known to visit the participant’s area of the country, and a data sheet to track their counts. The project allows participants to assist in tracking resident and migrating bird species numbers. It is also a great, fun way to learn to recognize various bird species.

North American Butterfly Association (NABA)

NABA offers several opportunities for volunteers to become involved in assisting butterflies including its programs for counting butterflies and landscaping for butterflies.

Its butterfly count program gathers data that will help monitor various butterfly populations. Participants can also raise public awareness by hosting events that will increase interest in butterflies and hopefully encourage others to take steps to protect them and their habitats.

NABA has adopted a garden and habitat program, which gives participants the knowledge needed to create a garden for butterflies. Once established with the proper criteria fulfilled, participants can then register their gardens with NABA. They have the satisfaction of knowing that they have provided an oasis for butterflies while enjoying these delicate insects as they float from flower to flower.

Monarch Watch

It is not an unknown that Monarch butterflies are losing their habitats and that their numbers are greatly declining. This is largely due to the fact that their habitats are being cut down for human use and that the milkweed flower, their only host plant, is being eradicated as it is seen as a weed.

Monarch Watch offers a couple of programs to involve citizens in aiding the Monarch butterflies. The Monarch Waystation Program provides information on creating stopovers for migrating monarchs.

The Monarch tagging program allows for the monitoring and study of Monarch migration. Since Monarchs cannot survive long, cold winters, they will migrate up to 3,000 miles. Their migration happens twice a year and these migrations are not completely understood. Participants in the tagging program can obtain tagging kits, instructions, and charts from the Monarch Watch website.

It is hoped that this program will thwart the decline of these beautiful creatures while developing an interest in maintaining, repairing, and preserving their habitats.

Million Pollinator Garden

The Million Pollinator Garden Project is sponsored by The National Pollinator Garden Network. It is challenged with registering one million public and private gardens that will support the needs of various pollinators—butterflies, bees, birds, bats. Pollinators are essential as their pollination is essential for some of the food that we eat. Yet their survival is at risk. The flowers and plants that they need in order to stay healthy—to pollinate—are declining. They need willing gardeners to create habitats that provide pollinating plants for them.

The website gives information on planting and registering a pollinator garden. It also lists other organizations that are assisting pollinators. Feel free to navigate these sites also.

Citizen Scientists

A wealth of opportunities—and without an official scientific education. Participants can become actively involved in scientific efforts to heal and protect nature and wildlife. It is a way for various peoples and entities—communities, cities, landowners, private citizens, youth, seniors, tourists, hikers, hunters, organizations—to join forces for the benefit of the environment. Participants can study hummingbirds, butterflies, and birds; test the purity of water; monitor marine debris; communicate climate change; monitor the impact of oil spills. They can assist Project NOAH, which seeks to study wildlife through the use of citizen scientists. Citizen scientists assist in collecting data for its ongoing research. It is hoped that the program will allow people to reconnect with nature and experience the awe of our natural home.

Master Naturalist

The Master Naturalist Program offers a course that allows participants to become certified as Master Naturalists. Since the ecosystems of various states and communities within those states are diverse, there is no national program. An individual program, while offering core topics, gears its program to the specific community’s ecosystems. The course covers such areas as geology, water, botany, and zoology, among others. If you are interested, do an Internet search for the Master Naturalist Programs in your specific state.

Local Parks and Nature Centers

Lest we overlook them, local parks, nature trails, nature centers, botanical gardens, and the like also offer volunteer opportunities. Perhaps one could act as a docent in a nature park, assist in the planting of trees or the planning of a new park, become a summer program counselor, help to build a nature path—or any of a myriad of endeavors.

Volunteering for nature is fun and quite rewarding. Experiment and seek out your volunteer niche. You will make a difference. One person cannot change the natural world solo, but a legion of volunteers can. Be part of that legion.


Virginia Anson grew up in the shadows of Sandia Crest in New Mexico. Family camping trips may have sparked her passion for nature. She holds an A.S. in Electronics Technology, a B.A. in Writing, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and a certificate in Wildlife/Forestry Conservation. Her book, Mother Earth’s Caretakers, targets middle school youngsters and is published as an e-book for Kindle. Virginia is a Vietnam Era veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and her volunteer endeavors see her as a lector, Eucharistic minister, and sacristan in her parish and as a habitat steward for the National Wildlife Federation. She especially cherishes her life in the Secular Franciscan Order, following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.


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