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Successful citizen wilderness stewardship programs are partnerships, and partnerships are all about relationships, and establishing and cultivating relationships take both time and dedication.
By CONNIE G. MYERS and DON HUNGER
Integrity of the National Wilderness Preservation System is threatened by fire suppression, invasive species, heavy and highly concentrated use of sensitive areas, and a growing disconnect between people and wilderness. The staff, skill base, and funding needed to address these challenges continue to decline and are currently insufficient. Unless approaches for closing this staffing and funding gap are developed, the integrity of wilderness will continue to erode and, along with it, the ecologic, economic, and social benefits of wilderness to our citizens, our country, and our world.
One approach successfully employed by some units to help compensate for federal staffing and funding shortfalls is developing and deploying skilled citizen wilderness stewards. This article identifies common components of successful volunteer wilderness citizen stewardship programs as well as barriers.
Individual and group meetings were conducted during the 2004 calendar year to explore and identify intersecting circles of interest and capacity among agencies, academia, volunteers, and other partner organizations in developing and deploying citizen wilderness stewards. Specific to the Forest Service are elements of the 10-Year Wilderness Stewardship Challenge that could successfully be addressed by citizen wilderness stewards.
Components of Successful Programs
A number of successful citizen wilderness stewardship programs were reviewed to determine what makes them work. When compared one to another, the following five common components of success surfaced.
1. Agency champion: The most successful projects included an agency employee who solidly invested in volunteer efforts by providing leadership, support, feedback, reward, and sometimes field presence.
2. Nongovernmental champion: The most successful projects included a nongovernmental organization that conducted volunteer recruitment, training, outfitting, and supervision.
3. Meaningful volunteer experiences: The most successful projects were those inspiring connectedness and community, interesting and meaningful work with clear expectations and responsibilities, adequate training, effective supervision, and appropriate recognition.
4. Academic and scientific support Among the most successful monitoring projects were those supported by academic institutions providing training, ensuring data quality assurance and quality control, data analysis, and long-term project continuity and management.
5. Meets needs Successful citizen stewardship efforts meet both agency and nongovernmental organization needs.
Nongovernmental Organization Needs
Barriers to Successful Efforts
Some efforts to develop and deploy citizen wilderness stewards failed, and even successful citizen wilderness stewardship programs experienced setbacks along the way. When compared one to another, the following five common barriers preventing successful citizen stewardship programs surfaced:
1. Insufficient agency collaboration and coordination with volunteer organizations
Limited agency staff and time. There are fewer employees doing more work who are stretched so thin that they cannot spend time cultivating relationships with volunteer organizations, preparing field projects, conducting outreach, and coordinating volunteer efforts.
Limited knowledge and expertise. There is inconsistency in volunteer management among staff due to varying levels of awareness and knowledge about available partnership authorities.
2. Bureaucratic barriers
Inability to reimburse New requirements make it almost impossible to reimburse volunteers for gas, supplies, etc. This is a tremendous impediment to volunteer efforts resulting in the generation of ill will between otherwise supportive volunteers, a decline in returning volunteers, and a lack of incentive for agency employees to continue volunteer efforts.
3. Insufficient volunteer training and support
In some cases volunteers spend more time in training than they spend in the field, unless they are returning volunteers. Concern about liability and number of courses required frequently precludes investment in volunteer program development.
4. Insufficient incentive
5. Insufficient commitment
Generating volunteer hours is not part of employee performance elements. Volunteers aren't free. It takes time to build a strong commitment from both parties, to do the planning to prepare a field project, and to conduct outreach. Spending time cultivating volunteer opportunities is not a priority.
Implications and Recommendations
Consistently, the most successful citizen wilderness stewardship programs displayed the common elements of success and avoided the barriers presented herein. The implication is that if units launching citizen wilderness stewardship efforts embrace the common elements of success and avoid the barriers, their likelihood of success will be significantly greater than those who choose to do otherwise.
Results further suggest that units would benefit tremendously from establishment of citizen wilderness stewardship program coordinator positions to cultivate relationships with volunteer organizations, prepare field projects, conduct outreach, and coordinate volunteer efforts. Additionally, results indicate that all units considering establishing new or enhancing existing citizen stewardship programs would benefit from knowing who is interested in what types of stewardship opportunities, what opportunities are available, and how stewards can be trained. In light of these implications, the following six recommendations are offered:
1. Embrace components of success and avoid barriers. Ensure that units considering development of citizen wilderness stewardship programs are aware of and follow to the degree possible the identified components of success.
2. Explore nonfederal funding in support of citizen stewardship program coordinator positions. Given current limitations of federal funding, pursue private funding in support of these positions with organizations such as the Outdoor Industry Association.
3. Identification. Launch efforts to recommend a process to successfully.
4. Organization and Training. Explore methods for getting nongovernmental organizations to provide leadership in:
6. Motivation and Accountability
Although citizen wilderness stewardship programs will not completely compensate for federal staffing and funding shortfalls, they are one means to continue advancing wilderness programs in light of these austere times. A word of caution to those eager to launch such a program:
The most successful citizen wilderness stewardship programs include a nongovernmental champion who conducts volunteer recruitment, training, outfitting, and supervision, and a solidly invested agency champion to provide leadership, support, feedback, reward, and sometimes field presence. Given these requirements for success, citizen wilderness stewardship programs are not to be entered into lightly. They most certainly cannot be thought of, or marketed as, "cheap labor." Rather, successful citizen wilderness stewardship programs are partnerships and partnerships are all about relationships, and establishing and cultivating relationships take both time and dedication. Units unwilling or unable to dedicate time to this endeavor are discouraged from even attempting to launch citizen wilderness stewardship programs.
Those units having successful citizen wilderness stewardship programs stand as a testimony to what can be achieved for wilderness. Their successes come when time is dedicated to cultivating relationships with volunteer organizations, preparing field projects, conducting outreach, and coordinating volunteer efforts. We are thankful for their inspiring examples to help ensure an enduring resource of wilderness.
CONNIE G. MYERS is the director of the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center located in the James E. Todd Building, 32 Campus Drive, Missoula, Montana 59812-3168 - email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
DON HUNGER is the Senior Director for Partnership Development, The Student Conservation Association, 1201 Cornwall Avenue, Suite 104, Bellingham, WA 98225 - email: email@example.com.
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Updated January 13, 2008