About Evan Barrientos

Evan Barrientos is a naturalist and conservationist living in Fort Collins, Colorado. His passion is using photography, videography, and writing to inspire people to explore and care for nature. He works for the National Audubon Society as the communications and marketing coordinator for Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah.

Hubbard Alumni Blog: Volunteer Findings

This post was written by Evan Barrientos, one of our Hubbard Fellows from June 2015 through May 2016.  He’s working for Montana State University Extension now, but has returned to write a follow up post on the topic of his Hubbard Fellowship independent project.  You can see what he’s up to in Montana by following his personal blog.  

Hello again! I’m writing from beyond the Fellowship because my final month as a Hubbard Fellow was a whirlwind and I didn’t find time to write a blog post that did the experience justice. First, I want to say that it was the best career-building experience that I could have possibly had. The Fellowship taught me diverse and useful job skills, taught me how to network within a wide conservation community, and transitioned me from a recent graduate to a young  professional. Second, I want to summarize what I learned from my fantastic experience working on the Platte River Prairies’ volunteer program.

Phone Interviews: During my fellowship I conducted 11 phone interviews with other land stewardship volunteer coordinators, mostly in prairie ecosystems. Overall, these coordinators were impressively competent and offered lots of wise advice and great ideas. Here is a very summarized list of what I found.

  • Word-of-mouth is the best form of recruitment, which means volunteer events really need to be enjoyable and meaningful if you want volunteers to bring their friends.
  • Trainings allow volunteers to take on more advanced tasks such as herbicide application and chainsaw use, thereby accomplishing much more work. Several programs also train their volunteers to lead workdays and offer the opportunity to volunteer independently outside of formal workdays. Trainings also promote retention by providing learning opportunities and showing volunteers that they’re valued. Pairing new volunteers with experienced ones is also an efficient way to train.
  • Communication between staff and volunteers is essential. The volunteer coordinator must provide clear and specific instructions and locations and always be reachable by phone to answer questions.
  • Retention is crucial for building efficient volunteers and a productive volunteer program. The longer a volunteer has been volunteering, the better he/she knows the site and tasks. This takes time, but regularly offering quality workdays is the first step towards identifying and developing dedicated volunteers.
  • Ways to promote retention:
    • Treat committed volunteers with the same levels of respect and expectations as paid staff.
    • Integrate staff and volunteers as much as possible.
    • Build a sense of community through formal and informal social opportunities.
    • Provide opportunities to gain skills and knowledge.
    • Express gratitude regularly and at formal events.

Volunteer Survey: I also sent out a survey to collect feedback on our volunteer program. Here are a few things I learned:

  • Helping prairies was the strongest motivation for volunteering, followed by learning and getting outside.
  • More satisfied volunteers were more likely to volunteer in the future and had higher past attendance.
  • There was significant interest in volunteering independently on their own schedule (78%).
  • Distance was the factor discouraging attendance most frequently mentioned (37%).

My own conclusions:

Working with volunteers was the most rewarding work I’ve done in a long time. There are many excellent conservation organizations that significantly expand their stewardship capacity by effectively engaging volunteers, but it takes time, dedication, and the right personality to do so. Regularly holding enjoyable and meaningful workdays is the first step; creating opportunities to grow into new responsibilities is often the second. Last, it is almost always necessary for there to be at least one staff person dedicated to managing the volunteer program in order for it to flourish. With time, it’s possible to create programs that accomplish a lot of work while inspiring a passion for conservation in many people.

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A milkweed sprouts from the prairie that volunteers helped seed last winter.

Hubbard Fellowship Post – Friggin’ Aquatic River Mammals

Our two current Hubbard Fellows are nearing the end of their time with us.  Kim Tri actually left at the end of last week and Evan Barrientos’ last day will be this Friday.  We had a nice staff get together last week for Kim and celebrated her successful and productive year with us.  We were planning to do something nice for Evan too, but then he sidled up to me the other day and showed me the video featured at the end of this post.  Now, I’m not sure he’s going to get a party.  Despite that, I will continue to admit that Evan is a talented writer and photographer and he has a pretty decent personal blog. If you would like to see more of his photographs, you can even follow him on Facebook.  I would, however, caution you that he apparently hangs out with creatures that CAN NOT BE TRUSTED and that might reflect on his own integrity.  Regardless, if you really want to, you can read Evan’s last post as a Hubbard Fellow below:

While walking along a channel of the Platte River, I turned around and realized that there was a huge beaver grooming himself on a bank just 20 feet from me. I froze, expecting him to dash away, but to my surprise he just sat there in the sun. This was by far the best look I’ve had of a beaver, and I was surprised by how large his head and nose were. He also had an enormous potbelly as he sat hunched over, reminding me of an obese old  man. For several minutes he sat there grooming, which consisted of slowly rubbing his face and armpits, as if taking an invisible shower. It was a beautiful morning, and he really seemed to be enjoying it as he squinted into the sun. I heard a splash behind me, and turned to see another beaver that had crawled out from the water on the other side of the road I was walking on, attempting to carry a stick across it, but I was blocking her path. Unlike the other beaver, she detected me, and after a moment of panicked indecision, dropped her stick, sprinted across the road, leapt four feet off the road and dove headfirst into the water with a loud splash.

Of course, I’m never carrying a camera when something cool that happens, so I returned to the spot the next morning with my gear. I waited for an hour but no beavers showed up. Instead, I was visited by a family of River Otters. (If you’re reading this in an email you won’t be able to see the video below unless you click on the post title or this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqBWlohOkbk)