WASHINGTON, April 22, 2012- USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) took the opportunity to recognize its thousands of Earth Team volunteers during National Volunteer Week last week. 

NRCS Under Secretary Harris Sherman noted that the 22,000 volunteers in 1,500 NRCS offices throughout the country donated nearly half a million hours of time in 2011. With two billion more people expected in the world population by 2050, he said protecting water, soil, land and air that’s needed to produce food is a growing challenge. 

“The challenges we’re facing regarding good stewardship of the land are increasing,” he said. “Correspondingly, we’re seeing continued decrease in our budget due to national effort to reduce the deficit. Therefore, the role of volunteers is becoming more and more important.”

In recent years, NRCS experienced a decline in the number of volunteers and donated hours years because of funding reductions for selected conservation programs such as Resource Conservation and Development and more stringent security requirements for volunteers after September 11, Sherman explained.  NRCS experienced its highest number of volunteers—70,308—in 2007. The highest number of donated hours, at 1,094, 108-- occurred in 2002 with 38,140 volunteers.

The NRCS Earth Team, the only volunteer program at USDA other than the Forest Service volunteers, attracts volunteers from as young as 14-years-old to retirees. According to Sherman, an increasing number of young people are becoming interested in conservation. The NRCS volunteer program partners with several universities to recruit students and has recruiting efforts through high school and middle schools. 

The tasks of NRCS Earth Team volunteers range across every aspect of farm and ranch conservation projects, education efforts, and restoration assistance. The volunteer program also gives the agency an opportunity to look for future employees, Sherman noted.

This year, NRCS honored the Kansas Apprentice Program with the Chief’s Cup National Earth Team Volunteer Service Award for its effort to provide students an opportunity to work with NRCS employees and become familiar with agency activities.   

Volunteers can sign up in state NRCS offices or online or by calling 888-526-3227.


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