1990 - Volunteering for Wildlife
The value of volunteers has long been recognized by Idaho Fish and Game. They enable the department to do far more to benefit wildlife than is possible with existing staff. The restoration of sagebrush and bitterbrush habitat is a good example.
Bitterbrush and sagebrush – both native shrubs – comprise an important component of big game winter ranges in Idaho and throughout the west. These shrubs provide essential food sources for deer, elk and other wildlife, cover from the elements and from predators, and nesting habitat for birds and small mammals. Even large animals like deer and elk find shelter among mature stands of bitterbrush and sagebrush during winter storms. Because of their deep-rooted structure, native shrubs provide for soil stabilization, reducing erosion.
Idaho Fish and Game volunteers plant thousands of sagebrush and bitterbrush seedlings every year in an effort to restore this critical wildlife habitat.
Other fish and wildlife projects that rely heavily on volunteers for their success are:
- The Water Life Discovery Center at the Sandpoint Hatchery property is largely maintained and staffed by the Pend Oreille Chapter of the Master Naturalists. This group of volunteers is also helping conduct a citizen science project of Hager Lake, a rare Idaho peat land.
- The Multi-Species Baseline Initiative (MBI). This collaboration of organizations conducts standardized surveys for wildlife species and micro-climate across the Idaho Panhandle and adjoining mountain ranges. Hundreds of volunteer citizen naturalists work side by side with professional biologists to participate in this effort. MBI first began using volunteers to assist with forest carnivore bait station monitoring. During the winter of 2011-12 over 140 volunteers spent nearly 2,000 hours hauling frozen beavers to remote locations to set up bait stations to collect images and hair samples from forest carnivores. Since then volunteers have continued to help with bait stations and other projects that include searching for amphibians, building slug traps, climate monitoring, and searching through leaf litter for tiny snails.
- Volunteers have helped spawn fish at Henry’s Lake hatchery since it was acquired by the state in 1923. Today’s volunteers spawn over 1 million cutthroat trout every year and have done as many as 2.5 million in a year.
- Over the past five years volunteers have helped improve habitat on the Pack River delta in the Panhandle. In the near future, their restoration efforts will shift to stabilizing the Clark Fork River delta.
- Volunteers have made it possible to restore native shrubs onto the Boise River Wildlife Management Area following numerous wildfires in the past two decades.
- Volunteers comprised the workforce for the restoration of riparian areas along the Little Salmon River. They are the River Menders, a community of volunteers who work to restore native riparian habitats along Idaho’s rivers and creeks utilizing soft techniques. Originally organized by Idaho Department of Fish and Game, they work with private landowners and partner with other state and local agencies to protect and restore riparian habitats on their land.
- Hunter Education instructors are all volunteers. In 2013, these volunteers donated 15,500 hours of their time to help first-time hunters acquire the knowledge and skills to become safe, responsible hunters. Most instructors are lifelong hunters who believe in the importance of giving something back to their sport.
For many years Idaho Fish and Game encouraged dedicated volunteers to expand their knowledge of wildlife management through the Reservist program. They received additional training from biologists and enforcement officers to enable them to handle situations such as problem animals and enforcement at check stations.
The Reservist program eventually faded away, but in 2008 Idaho Fish and Game launched the Idaho Master Naturalist Program. This program is an adult education and volunteer program that invites Idaho Citizens to spend 40 hours learning about Idaho’s natural world and giving 40 hours of their time to volunteer toward conservation in a given year. The Idaho Master Naturalists is organized into 8 chapters and contributes over 10,000 volunteer hours toward conservation. See what the Upper Snake Chapter and the Pend Oreille Chapter have been up to on their Facebook pages.
Supported by Idaho Fish and Game’s Diversity Program, the Master Naturalists invite partnerships with other state and federal agencies as well as a multitude of non-profit conservation groups to engage participants in learning about nature and participating in conservation-related work.
If you want to get outdoors and make a difference for Idaho’s fish and wildlife, check out some of opportunities to volunteer with Idaho Fish and Game.