Public lands symposium in Fresno

February 18, 2014 

The Sustainable Forests and Communities Collaborative (SFCC), in partnership with the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and the Sierra Resource Conservation District, held their first large-scale event, "SFCC Symposium: Coordinating Volunteers on Our Public Lands" at California State University, Fresno, Feb. 7.

More than 80 representatives from volunteer organizations and public land management agencies throughout Central California came to attend six diverse sessions to increase and encourage volunteerism on public lands.

The symposium addressed the existing gap between volunteer organizations and restoration projects on public lands by fostering understanding of the restraints both volunteer organizers and public land managers must work within. The keynote speaker, Joyce Granger, vice president of the Sierra Free Packers unit of the Backcountry Horsemen of California, noted this challenge.

"As so many of the public land budgets continue to be cut or reduced those agencies that partner with volunteers are in a sense winning the lottery every time," Granger said. "They get an influx in both labor and dollar-value for their projects."

Currently, public land managers find themselves needing volunteer assistance to effectively manage public lands yet many times the tools needed to partner with the appropriate organizations are limited.

"A public land project can be like the dry parched earth without volunteers, so I would like to encourage public land agencies to embrace the volunteers like the earth does the rain," Granger said. "At the same time remembering that the volunteers can be a catalyst to help a project to bloom, grow and thrive. And to the volunteers, I would say engage, and immerse yourselves with the public land projects."

The morning sessions featured presentations by experienced volunteer organizations, covering topics like meeting volunteer needs, managing volunteers effectively, and creative solutions to funding hurdles.

"Today's sessions allowed for me to better understand the current challenges as well as the opportunities that exist to bridge this gap," said Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler. "I think it is the role of each and every one of us to start working on public land issues collaboratively. We must work together to ensure that these lands are healthy for our children and grandchildren."

The afternoon was devoted to two panels which allowed participants to have a detailed question-and-answer session with public land managers, educators and tribal contacts. Panel one featured representatives from the Sierra National Forest, Yosemite National Park and the Bureau of Land Management, who all provided the "insiders scoop" on their respective agencies. They discussed how they worked with volunteers, their recruitment process, and the challenges and restrictions they face as federal agencies.

The final panel, "Sharing Successes and Challenges," featured successful volunteer coordinators from throughout the state providing new models and approaches for both public land managers and volunteer organizers alike.

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