The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources uses thousands of volunteers, and needs thousands more.
Volunteers play a critical role in everything from monitoring lakes and streams to teaching firearms safety or managing invasive plants in natural areas.
“Last year, we were at about 13,000. We could definitely use another 13,000,” said Renée Hartwig, director of volunteer programs. “We have really pretty limitless numbers (of volunteers) that we can have involved in programming.”
DNR volunteer numbers peaked at about 35,000 in 2009 according to Hartwig, but like many organizations, the agency now struggles to fill openings.
“We’re looking at what people are looking for in volunteer experiences,” she said. The focus will continue to be on natural resources.
“But we also need to make them memorable experiences, fun experiences, help people gain skills, or share their skills,” she said, “Making it a win-win for natural resources and wildlife and for the volunteer.”
Proximity to the work can be a challenge in filling some positions. Volunteer jobs are scattered across the state, in many cases far from the largest population base in the Twin Cities.
The DNR partners with wildlife and environmental organizations who help provide volunteers.
The agency has a couple of new volunteer initiatives; the Minnesota Plant Watch program where volunteers seek out rare plants throughout the state, and the Bird by Bird volunteer program in some St. Paul and Minneapolis schools, which teaches bird identification.
“Our mission is to work with Minnesotans to manage our natural resources. And this is a great way to get hands-on involvement in the mission,” said Hartwig. “And there are many programs that are totally reliant on volunteers for them to be carried out.”
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