Ten years ago, when former software developer Ed Self recruited a group of 20 friends to help him plant willows to improve habitat around a local wetland, he had no idea that this group would swell to become a 2000+member organization known as Wildlands Restoration Volunteers (WRV).
“I had no intention of starting a non-profit,” said Ed, who now holds a master’s degree in Volunteer Program Management with an emphasis on ecological restoration and environmental education “I was just trying to bring together all of the things I personally care about – outdoor education, botany, volunteering and service learning. I wanted to do something that was healing – for the earth, people and community.”
With a mission to “foster a community spirit of shared responsibility for the stewardship and restoration of public lands among residents of the Northern Colorado Front Range and beyond,” WRV volunteers now take on 35-40 restoration projects throughout Northern Colorado each year. Project examples include removing invasive species; obliterating old roads that fragment wildlife habitat; planting trees to re-establish a critical subalpine wildlife corridor for Canada Lynx; stabilizing and restoring eroded hiking trails; restoring a mile long stream and riparian corridor destroyed by motorized recreation; planting tens of thousands of plants to restore wetland habitat, adopting and restoring an urban stream, and collecting native seeds for future revegetation efforts.
Funded through grants, individual donors, and government fee for service arrangements, WRV is headquartered in Boulder, CO. Since its humble beginnings, WRV has completed 217 projects through which their volunteers have contributed over 153,000 hours (valued over $2.7 Million). They have restored 13 miles of streams and shorelines; obliterated over 15 miles of roads to protect and restore habitat, planted more than 120,000 trees and native plants, removed more than 1,800 acres of noxious weeds, and much more.
According to Ed, “The greatest impact of our work reaches beyond the thousands of hours of volunteer labor on the ground. WRV provides skills, education, tools, and a vision of hope that catalyzes people to fall in love with places and realize that they can work together to restore those places and make a tangible difference in the world.
WRV’s motivated volunteers have provided much needed labor for partners such as the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Parks, the City of Boulder, Boulder County, Rocky Mountain National Park, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and many others. WRV’s primary focus is on ecological restoration on public lands, although they may perform work on private land if there is a public benefit.
“In some cases, the land agencies we help have very limited staff and funding,” said Ed, “and they either couldn’t do these projects without us, or it might take them ten years to get done.”
There’s a reason WRV’s mission includes the words “the Northern Colorado Front Range and beyond.” Not only does Ed see WRV’s future involvement in ecological restoration extending beyond the Front Range, he sees the human engagement element of WRV’s work as a movement that can ripple throughout the world.
“Just endlessly doing more and more restoration is not going to solve the underlying issue,” said Ed. “In order to really accomplish our mission, we need to do things that lead to a transformation in human relationships to the natural world. When people get their hands dirty doing restoration work, it fundamentally changes their relationship to the land. In order to achieve that transformation, we have to reach a critical mass of having enough people engaged in public land stewardship that that perspective can seep into the larger culture.
Assuming WRV continues to grow at a phenomenal pace, inspire such enthusiasm that volunteers outnumber opportunities, and foster the development of new stewardship volunteer groups in other communities (a high WRV priority), Ed’s concept is likely to catch on. We sure hope it does. To learn more about Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, to support the organization, or to contact them about how you can start a similar program in your area, check out their web site.