With global warming a continual threat to our environment, suburban sprawl taking over wildlife habitats, and ocean pollution damaging complex ecosystems, wildlife and habitat preservation organizations need volunteers more than ever before. And Americans are answering the call, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 64.3 million Americans volunteered in 2011. Luckily, as the need for volunteers continues to rise, so does number of ways to get involved. From green internship programs to habitat maintenance crews, today’s young Americans have hundreds of diverse and hands-on volunteering opportunities to choose from.
So, whether it’s a simple monetary donation or taking a full semester off to take care of orphaned orangutans, getting involved with wildlife and habitat preservation efforts has never been easier.
Choose Your Cause
Wildlife Protection: Animal populations are disappearing at an alarming rate. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, scientists estimate around 100 species go extinct daily – that’s one species every 15 minutes. But with the help of the Endangered Species Act and organizations like the World Wildlife Federation we can help turn these numbers around.
Protect Your Turf: You can help protect wildlife by picking up trash in parks and around your neighborhood, implementing recycling programs at your school, and talking to local park rangers about how to protect species in your area.
Sea Change: According to the Nature Conservancy, scientists estimate that unless we take immediate action, we could lose up to 70 percent of coral reefs by 2050. Coral reefs are home to 25 percent of marine life. To help protect coral reefs and their inhabitants, volunteer for a coral reef clean-up or join the Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees campaign.
Find the Right Organization
It’s easy to get mired down in the details, but figuring out where to start is as easy as following your passion. Someone who enjoys scuba diving might find their passion is protecting coral reefs and marine life. If you spend Saturdays rock climbing and mountaineering, considering spending some of your outdoor time working with local national and state park maintenance crews. Or maybe you’d rather spend the day cuddling with kittens? Contact your local animal shelter and ask about their volunteering needs.
Finding the right volunteer opportunity is made even simpler with websites like Serve.gov, VolunteerMatch.org and Idealist.org. If everyone does their part, we can make a huge impact.
Once you narrow down your choices for volunteer organizations, let these questions help you pick the right one:
- Is the volunteer opportunity fun, interesting or challenging?
- Do you admire the organization? Is it reputable?
- Will it require more time or money than you intended on giving?
- Does the volunteer opportunity use any of your skills or talents?
If you are still unsure which organization is right for you, talk to some current or former volunteers and consult watchdog groups like CharityNavigator.org for more information.
An Individual Can Make a Difference
And for those unable to commit hours on an ongoing basis, finding ways to make a strong impact can be as simple as writing a letter or making a statement with your pocketbook.
Write a Letter: Policy at the state and local level defines environmental initiatives. Writing to your local elected officials will help affect policy. There is strength in numbers, so organizing letter-writing campaigns on campus will make your words all the more meaningful. The Sierra Club offers tips on how to write a powerful letter.
Vote With Your Dollar: With Fair Trade products popping up shops across the country and community supported agriculture becoming more widespread, consumer activism and sustainable buying is an easy way to make a statement. Purchasing locally grown organic produce lets grocery stores know these things are needed.
Don’t Forget to Think Local
Getting involved locally has a ripple effect. Your peers are influenced by your actions, which, in turn, influences their peers. Not only does this have a positive impact on emotional well-being, local wildlife and habitats reap the benefits as well.
Be a Community Leader: Sometimes the best place to start is in your own community. You can make a big impact with clean energy by swapping your vehicle for a bicycle. This reduces carbon emissions and helps keep our land and waterways clean.
Get Started In Your Backyard: Suburban sprawl displaces native plants and animals. According to the National Audobon Society, planting native plants in your yard decreases water dependence, reduces the need for fertilizer and pest control, and creates a renewed sense of home for wildlife. You can even organize a group to scout out and destroy invasive species in your parks and around the neighborhood.
Now, Let’s Move Forward
As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”
The continued pursuit of habitat and wildlife conservation is an important one, not just now, but for generations to come.