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Volunteers aren’t free: Congress must provide funds to support volunteers on public lands
Volunteers aren’t free: Congress must provide funding to support & manage volunteers it’s demanding in the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act More than 30 miles of dirt trails and primitive roads in Deschutes National Forest in Oregon were deliberately wrecked in 2014 by unsupervised volunteers who were supposed to be doing necessary, environmentally-appropriate trail maintenance. They caused more than $200,000 in damage. The National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act, currently working its way through the USA Congress, would mandate government agencies to increase volunteer involvement in trail maintenance, but it does not provide funding for necessary volunteer management: for screening volunteers, training them, supervising them, etc. Therefore, Americans can expect even more problems caused by untrained, unsupervised volunteers on our public lands. Volunteers, appropriately trained and supported, are a huge asset to public lands in the USA, not because they are unpaid, but because they are members of the public, learning first hand how public lands are administered. They are able to offer unfiltered feedback and ideas about that administration from a variety of perspectives that may be quite different from those of paid employees. HistoriCorps, a national initiative that mobilizes volunteers to save and sustain our nation’s historic sites, is a great example of this kind of successful of involvement of volunteers, because volunteers are appropriately recruited, screened, trained and supervised. Sending anyone, paid or not, to do work for which they are not trained, supervised and supported properly can be a disaster. Kevin Larkin of the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District in the Deschutes National Forest had to learn of the importance of the basics of volunteer management the hard way, and says now, in a story on OPB Radio, “It’s not as simple as welcoming a volunteer through the door, handing that person a shovel and saying, ‘Go do good work. There’s direction, guidance and attention that’s needed." And this direction, guidance and attention must be funded for it to happen at all. Those that will create assignments for and recruit volunteers must be trained in the basics of volunteer management, including risk management, safety, and tracking work and accomplishments, and they must be funded to provide the time needed to appropriately support and supervise volunteers, if volunteer engagement is to be beneficial, rather than destructive or harmful. Volunteer management training is available through books, through onsite and online workshops, through university-based certificate programs, through professional associations of managers of volunteers, and through consulting by experts in the management of volunteers. H.R.845 - The National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act - directs the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to publish a national strategy to significantly increase the role of volunteers and partners in trail maintenance. But the act provides no funding for the effective management and support of these volunteers. The primary sponsor of this bill is Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming. A list of the more than 75 Congressional cosponsors of this bill can be viewed at https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/845/cosponsors We the undersigned support increased engagement of volunteers on our public lands, but we call on Congress to provide the necessary funds for the effective management and support of these volunteers.