National Forest Volunteer

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The U.S. National Forest Service relies heavily on its dedicated staff of volunteers. Without the volunteer program, there would not be enough manpower to adequately support the many ongoing projects and much needed research. National Forest Volunteer employment is an excellent way to try out different opportunities within the Forestry Service, and to ultimately decide whether a career with the Forest Service is right for you.

''A Career Working for the Great Outdoors. Where conflicting interests must be reconciled, the question will always be decided from the standpoint of the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.''
Gifford Pinchot, First Chief,
Forest Service, 1905-1910

The U.S. National Forest Service, developed in 1905, is committed to the maintenance and aggressive preservation of the nation’s forests, ranges, and wetlands in ways that are the most environmentally responsible and effective for the citizens who use them. The Forest Service actively participates in daily activities that involve promoting the health, diversity, and natural beauty of our forests and grasslands. Interaction with a specific area can include everything from hands on maintenance and preservation, to community awareness projects, presentations and training sessions for private forest landowners.

The National Forest Volunteer Program, created in 1972 through the Volunteers in the National Forest Act, has become the bedrock of the U.S. National Forestry Service.

In order to become a National Forest Volunteer, a candidate must complete a short volunteer orientation program, which includes an overview of the National Forest Service along with basic safety training. Interested applicants can find out about openings in their region by contacting the Forest Service regional office in their area. During the application process, the prospective volunteer will have the opportunity to list all of their prior experience and areas of interest in order to properly match them with a fulfilling volunteer opening. The average length of duty for a forestry volunteer varies, but it is generally encouraged that a commitment of at least six to eight weeks is made. Work hours can range from as little as a few hours per week, to a full time eight-hour day.

The Forest Service has a presence in every forest, grassland, wetland, and range across the United States, so the location of an available position is completely up to the applicant. Job descriptions can involve anything from office administrative work to extended camping stays while working with wilderness rangers. There are literally hundreds of opportunities available for National Forest volunteer employment. Some of the positions that may be available include:

Outreach Education Intern - Involving day long or overnight environmental education programs that are conducted during the summer months for elementary students participating in the Advanced Junior Ranger Program.
Campground Host - This ranger assistant volunteer position includes greeting and assisting campers, campground surveillance, litter pick up, and assisting the ranger in any other area necessary.
Preservation Projects - Heavy manual labor position that may include the use of crosscut saws, shovels, axes, etc. May also include carrying backpack gear and canoeing or hiking to the selected site. Volunteer works directly under the wilderness ranger.
Ecological Restoration Projects - This position involves working to restore or maintain habitats for rare and/or endangered wildlife species. Project can include invasive plant control, rigorous outdoor work, disease and invasive species control, and conservation biology.
Fire prevention - This Forest Service internship opportunity includes fire safety and prevention presentations to campers, campground surveillance for fire safety compliance, and any other fire safety duties while working directly under the direction of the park ranger.

As a National Forest volunteer, the compensation is limited to college credit and experience only. A wage or salary is not paid for this position, and the volunteer is not considered to be a federal or government employee. Certain exceptions in compensation may include reimbursement of transportation expenses, and free food and/or lodging. This is generally agreed upon before any given project is assigned.

The Passport In Time Program is another volunteer opportunity offered by the National Forest Service. If a volunteer candidate is interested in archaeology, this is an excellent opportunity to work with historians and professional archaeologists. Projects include research of historical archives, archaeological excavation, historic structure restoration, gathering pertinent information to write brochures, to name a few. The Passport In Time Program offers volunteer opportunities that can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, and may include extended camping. The volunteer may be responsible for providing their own food and other camping supplies.

A National Forest volunteer employment position, especially while still in college, can open the door to a wide range of career paths and college degree decisions. Working as a volunteer is often the first step needed to spark the interest of an individual to choose the National Forest Service as a career. Some of the career opportunities in the forestry industry, which require a specialized college education include:

Soil Scientist
Wildlife Biologist
Range Management Specialist
Civil Engineer
Landscape Architect
Fire and Fuel Management Planner
Environmental and Land Use Planner

Technical areas and administrative opportunities in specialized fields can also begin with National Forest volunteer employment. Volunteering in either of these areas can provide career exposure leading to positions in the following specialized professions:

Forestry Technician
Biological Science Technician
Law Enforcement Officer
Education and Training Specialist
Public Affairs Specialist
Criminal Investigator
Contract Specialist
Human Resource Specialist
Supervisory Law Enforcement
Accounting Technician

The variety in Forest Service professional career paths range from the ability to develop and evaluate forest and fire management plans and provide technical advice to teams of employees, to designing and implementing long term plans for the future of our forests, grasslands, and wetlands.

The future of the National Forest Service and its continued need for qualified volunteers and professionals in the years to come is strong. The Forest Service continues to grow and change, making use of the newest technology available in order to continually provide the best research, protection, and preservation management for our nation’s forest regions. National Forest volunteer employment is a smart first step to a possible fulfilling career with one of our government’s most important services.
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