Volunteers Working for Wildlife

group of coverts volunteers

There’s the stream of moose plates on whichever route you travel, and the endless birds that visit my backyard feeder. There are the tree farm signs affixed to old, sturdy oaks. The wildlife crossing reminders that sprinkle the roadsides, and the trail of leaf peepers that migrate in each fall. There are the stands selling maple syrup and apple cider. Bumper stickers adorned with bears, moose, and countless other critters. Footprints in the snow that don’t appear to be human, if you look close enough.

There are plenty of everyday reminders that New Hampshire’s wildlife and forest resources are a lot of what make the state special. And many New Hampshire residents are probably familiar with the network of federal and state agencies, non-profit organizations, local boards and commissions, and private consultants that contribute to the proper management of the state’s natural resources. But many residents might not be aware of one of the most widespread, dedicated groups working for the state’s wildlife and forests – the NH Coverts Project volunteers.

Started in 1995, the NH Coverts Project trains volunteers to promote wildlife conservation and forest stewardship in their communities. Each year, 25 landowners and conservation-minded New Hampshire residents gather with a team of natural resource professionals for a 3 ½ day workshop, where they learn about concepts and issues in wildlife and forest ecology, habitat management, land conservation, and effective outreach. In exchange for the training, participants agree to return to their communities and motivate others to become stewards of the state's wildlife and forest resources.

Participants and instructors at the 2014 NH Coverts Training Workshop
Participants and instructors at the 2014 NH Coverts Training Workshop in May.

With over 369 active Coverts Cooperators in over 150 New Hampshire communities, the activities of these volunteers in promoting forest and wildlife conservation are limited only by their own creativity. Each year, we ask Coverts Cooperators to reflect on a peak experience or high point in their volunteer work, and the responses are as varied as the people and towns they come from.

Kristen Murphy, Natural Resource Manager for the town of Exeter, attended the Coverts Workshop in 2010 and has worked to integrate wildlife and forest stewardship into her work and engage members of her community. “This year in Exeter we led two walks on one of our trail networks in celebration of National Trails Day. We advertised in newspapers, the Stewardship Network site, Facebook, and the local town website. We had a number of new faces attend. The first walk was early in the morning and we looked at songbirds. The second was later that morning. We talked about plants, wildlife signs, and the importance of rivers and buffers to our wildlife. It was great to be reaching new people.”

Volunteers at coverts workshop
Participants in the Coverts Workshop receive training both in the field and in the classroom.

Benjamin Pratt attended the workshop in 2003, and has used the information to guide management of his 108-acre property in Antrim. This year, he reflected on the benefits of actively managing his forestland. “l had a timber cut done on my property last year. […] It will improve the quality of the timber stand, and it is making a noticeable difference in the amount of wildlife activity.”

Mimi Jost attended the Coverts Workshop in 2014, and left committed to helping reduce the abundance of invasive plants in her town of Strafford. In June, she organized a garlic mustard pull on town land. “We had a few enthusiastic pullers who helped pull garlic mustard,” Mimi reported. “I have been after invasives ever since. […] The Coverts program has whetted my appetite to learn more about habitat management, land conservation, water resource protection - you name it, I want to learn about it.”

They write articles. They lead field walks. They serve on community boards. They give talks in their towns. They organize workdays. They conserve their land, and help others do the same. They lend a hand at stewardship events. They attend workshops and trainings. And they do it all with the goal of enhancing, maintaining, and conserving habitat for the rich diversity of native wildlife in New Hampshire through sound land stewardship.

I took all of the responses for 2014, and created a word cloud which gives higher prominence to words that appear more frequently. The result is a very inspiring cloud of words, which I promptly printed and hung on my office wall. For me, it serves as one more everyday reminder that our wildlife and forest resources – and our Coverts Cooperators - are a lot of what make New Hampshire special.

Coverts Word Cloud
A visual representation of responses by Coverts Cooperators, describing a peak experience or high point in their volunteer work

The New Hampshire Coverts Project is sponsored by UNH Cooperative Extension and New Hampshire Fish & Game. The program also receives support from the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the NH Charitable Foundation, the Davis Environmental Foundation, and the Quality Deer Management Association.