Chaffee County hosted a South American team to explore the ways the U.S. Forest Service implements volunteers.
A training for volunteer coordinators from Brazil’s Chico Mendes Institute for the Conservation of Biodiversity were hosted by U.S. Forest Service International Programs and the Pike & San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron & Comanche National Grasslands, which includes the Salida Ranger District.
The goal of this technical visit for the ICMBio participants was to develop an understanding of the structure of the USFS volunteer program, ways to engage partners, manage information, increase volunteer numbers and promote compliance.
The USFS invited national, regional and district coordinators and partners – both inside and outside the agency – to present on relevant topics during the training in early August.
“We kicked off the volunteer program technical training with discussions about the national structure, guiding documents, public campaigns and NGO partnerships with Washington office staff,” said Allison Stewart, Volunteer and Partnership Program coordinator based out of the Salida Ranger District office.
“I thought about what training I would have wanted when I first started in my role as a volunteer and partnership coordinator, and we structured the agenda accordingly,” she said.
ICMBio participants had a full week of events, including presentations from the National Forest Foundation, National Park Service, Job Corps and the USFS Regional office.
Next, they heard from the perspective of partners, including statewide organizations and local non-profit stewardship groups. Highlights also included talking with youth members of the Southwest Conservation Corps and spending a day working with Colorado Trail Foundation volunteers on a project above treeline.
It was an opportunity to reflect and assess the evolution of the USFS volunteer program, both spotlighting examples of great partnerships and confronting areas that need improvement.
“Partnerships have become popular,” said Stewart, referring to the growing number (and complexity) of outside organizations that work with the USFS. Public engagement is an important element of the Forest Service, and coordinating volunteers and partners is crucial for the agency to accomplish mission-critical work.
It made sense to include local partner groups and have them speak about their passion and dedication to volunteerism on public lands.
“Through this visit, hopefully these groups saw how much we value and appreciate them. I’m proud of the honest conversations we were able to have with our partners; we didn’t just talk about the good times. All relationships require good communication and mutual investment,” she said. Thank you to our local partner groups Friends of Fourmile, Colorado Mountain Club and Central Colorado Mountain Riders for engaging and presenting.
Stewart is an employee of Colorado Mountain Club, but receives funding from the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to manage the Volunteer and Partnership Program for both agencies in the Upper Arkansas River Valley of Colorado.
“My position is an awesome example of partnership, in it of itself,” said Stewart. She works with two Ranger Districts (Salida and Leadville) and the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office to match the needs of the agencies with available volunteer resources.
Besides different legislative barriers, the Brazilians noted that their society has a different cultural view on stewardship from what they observed in Colorado.
“In the U.S., our culture and volunteer demographic is changing too, and it’s important to have long-term strategies in place to ensure we care for our public lands into the future. Working with partners and youth ensures we stay relevant to the public,” said Stewart.
The volunteer program technical visit brought about inspiration, reflection and facilitated new relationships as well.
The USFS is providing technical guidance through the Partnership to Conserve Biodiversity in the Amazon to focus on the protected area system and indigenous territories in the Amazon region.
The Chico Mendes Institute for the Conservation of Biodiversity (ICMBio) is responsible for 320 protected areas (or conservation units) encompassing about 1.5 million square kilometers or approximately 17 percent of Brazil’s territory.
Many protected areas in Brazil at both the federal and state level include categories for extraction, sustainable use and indigenous subsistence. The USFS will continue to work with ICMBio and others to identify and develop key training, experiences, and demonstrations,; part of which includes volunteer programs.