Blogpost by PCMN Peggy O., Cohort 3
In March of 2020, as the potential scope of the pandemic became clear, opportunities to volunteer changed dramatically as organizations shut down suddenly for the safety of the public. Since then, as the virus numbers dropped and then rose again, government, organizations, and schools have struggled to understand the “new normal,” and to find new ways to continue their missions while safeguarding public safety. Master naturalists have also faced personal choices about when and if they can volunteer, but the guiding principle must be safety first. Our organization has reduced the requirements for volunteer hours and has been flexible and creative about offering service hours for activities that support our core mission of education, stewardship, citizen science and leadership, but that can be done independently or in small groups with special safety procedures.
Some of our partner and associated organizations have cancelled or altered programs and activities. For example, the National Park Service Desert Research Lab and Learning Center has been closed to visitors and has suspended their citizen science opportunities and the Udall Foundation’s Parks in Focus has not had “in person” volunteer activities with student groups. The Watershed Management Group encouraged individuals to “steward in place” and clean up trash in their neighborhoods and local watersheds rather than participate in large, organized clean-ups.
The Sky Island Alliance launched their FotoFauna program in late 2020, as a way to build and connect a large network of wildlife cameras across the Sky Island region. In addition to their own wildlife cameras, and those of other conservation organizations, they enlisted the support of individuals who have backyard wildlife cameras to record wildlife and submit monthly checklists. You can read more about it here: https://skyislandalliance.org/our-work/wildlife-program/sky-island-fotofauna/. SIA also needs virtual help with species IDusing iNaturalist and Zooniverse with their ongoing Border Wildlife Study. Other opportunities for volunteering in your own backyard include bird counts, phenology projects and other dispersed citizen science activities.
Some opportunities for in-person fieldwork with special COVID protocols still exist. Buenos Aries National Wildlife Refuge recently held their annual week-long Pima Pineapple Cactus Survey. Their safe practices included; outdoor, socially distanced orientation sessions, required masks, special consent and releases forms, participants drove to the study area in their own vehicles instead of car-pooling, extra water or Gatorade was available in individual bottles rather than refilling from a cooler, individuals were socially distanced while walking transects, and they did not eat lunch together.