The Value of Ecological Restoration Volunteer Programs

Localized, grassroots participation in ecological restoration has powerful social and environmental implications. Successful volunteer programs enable participants to connect with their local natural environments. Such connection creates feelings of ownership, dedication, and motivation to restore and protect the land. Localized citizen advocacy is significant for professional environmental organizations and government agencies because participants’ efforts aid in an organization’s ability to achieve its conservation goals. Ecological restoration and maintenance is an environmental initiative that often requires long-term dedication and commitment by numerous individuals. Investment in volunteer programs is an effective method that land managers can use to foster long-term community stewardship, while accomplishing their restoration goals. This thesis is focused upon the restoration efforts of the South Sound Prairie Volunteer Group, a group of local advocates who conduct prairie restoration work on public lands in western Washington, under the management of the professional environmental organization, The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Through a case study of a grassroots volunteer movement, I explore how volunteer advocates have advanced local ecological restoration efforts. I examine the experiences, values, and motivations that have led to long-term volunteer dedication. In turn, I seek to illustrate the vast amount of work that dedicated citizen stewards accomplish for restoration-focused environmental initiatives. Moreover, I contend that lessons derived from this single case study can provide beneficial guidance to other ecological restoration efforts.