Since 1993 people have cleared trails, planted seedlings, banded wild turkeys, spawned trout, mended fences, answered phones, entered data and counted Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. What they all have in common is they are volunteers with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW).
Over the past 15 years, more than 4,700 individuals and families have donated their free time, muscle and brain power to help the DOW accomplish its mission to perpetuate wildlife resources and provide people with the opportunity to enjoy wildlife.
“Rapid development and habitat loss have increased the challenges to Colorado’s wildlife and the DOW is fortunate to have a dedicated group of people willing to get up early on cold mornings or work late nights to help the DOW in multiple ways,” said Jena Sanchez, a Volunteer Coordinator from Colorado Springs. “Volunteer efforts make a huge impact on helping wildlife. The value of their donated time is over a million dollars a year. Volunteers help accomplish important work that might not get done otherwise,” she said.
Sanchez conceded that not all of the jobs volunteers assist with are glamorous, but they all have a positive impact for wildlife. “Counting bighorn sheep and mountain goats sounds neat. But it means getting up before dawn to climb mountains in sometimes less than ideal weather. It can be a grueling experience, but by in large, every volunteer who does it comes away with a sense of personal gratification that they are making a difference.”
Sanchez said the agency tries to match people with tasks they are comfortable with. Not everyone wants to get wet spawning fish, get dirty planting trees or work with youngsters teaching hunting safety and outdoor ethics. Some volunteers do light office duty, work in customer service centers, serve as campground hosts or staff information booths at wildlife festivals and trade shows.
The net effect, she said, is that game wardens and biologists get valuable assistance; and hunters, anglers, bird watchers and other wildlife enthusiasts see the direct benefits in healthier wildlife populations.
Two of the most popular volunteer programs are the “wildlife transport” and “bear aware” teams. Every year, hundreds of orphaned or injured animals are transported by volunteers to licensed rehabilitation centers where, whenever possible, they are nursed back to health and released back into the wild. Some of those same volunteers serve as liaisons in neighborhoods where bears and people share the same environment. The bear aware volunteers distribute educational materials and instruct homeowners in ways they can minimize conflicts with bears.
All DOW volunteers are required to complete an application form and participate in an orientation session prior to being assigned to project teams. Additional training may be required in the event the project involves specialized skills. For more information about the DOW volunteer program, visit the DOW Web site at: www.wildlifestate.co.us/Volunteer. Or, contact regional Volunteer Coordinator Jennifer Kleffner at (970) 375-6704, Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org.