On May 26, 2021, the BLM honored seven outstanding volunteers at the 25th annual Making a Difference National Volunteer Awards ceremony. Fittingly, during the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held live via Zoom. BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs, Nada Wolff Culver and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, Laura Daniel Davis offered heartfelt remarks to personally thank our award winners and all BLM volunteers. State and local leadership presented the awards in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming.
Volunteers are essential for the BLM to achieve its mission of sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands. Each year almost 30,000 BLM volunteers perform nearly a million hours of service, valued at over $25 million. This year’s extraordinary award winners served thousands of hours in 2019 and 2020 across the country and in various capacities such as visitor services, trail maintenance and planning and wild horse management, to name a few.
Lifetime Achievement Winners
California - Volunteers Jan McCullough and Jeff Batterson have served the Redding Field Office for 10 years as resident caretakers of the Sacramento River Bend Outstanding Natural Area (Bend Area). This complex area requires balanced and constant management to protect natural and cultural resources and provide high quality recreational experiences.
Jan and Jeff help the BLM provide basic visitor services, such as clean bathrooms, well maintained trailheads and trails, and informational signs. But more than that, their constant visitor contacts help provide excellent and welcoming information to the public while also diffusing conflicts between users and land uses. They maintain excellent relationships with repeat recreational users, grazing lessees and the hunting community. Plus, Jan and Jeff welcome youth interns and volunteers, creating relationships that often are the highlight of the youths’ experiences.
Colorado - John Howe has long been a quiet, but highly effective advocate for trail management on BLM lands in the Grand Junction area. He has volunteered his time and talent to BLM projects for fifteen years through the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA) and Colorado Canyons Association (CCA). During that time, John has provided valuable assistance to the BLM in all stages of trail planning, maintenance, and construction. Besides contributing hundreds of volunteer hours, John has also served to advance recreation in the Grand Junction area. His skill and forethought in working with other partners make him an irreplaceable piece of the recreation community. He has worked with just about everyone involved: from various levels of government to local businesses, to other clubs and user groups. Especially noteworthy are John's ongoing efforts to foster cooperation between motorized and nonmotorized trail users by sharing his talent and experience with other trail user groups.
Outstanding Achievement Winners
Colorado – TJ Holmes has been volunteering her time with the BLM Wild Horse and Burro program in the Tres Rios Field Office since 2011. TJ performs a critical role in administering the fertility control vaccine porcine zona pellucida (native PZP) to selected wild horse mares in the Spring Creek Basin HMA. Ms. Holmes is certified in the mixing and handling of PZP and demonstrates her commitment to appropriate darting techniques when administering the vaccine to wild horses. Tracy provides all required reporting documentation on PZP use to the BLM, as well as to the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Montana.
In addition to darting, TJ makes significant contributions to wild horse management through her other volunteer efforts that include collecting census and vegetation monitoring data and helping maintain range improvements in the Spring Creek Basin HMA. As a direct result of TJ’s work, the Tres Rios Field Office has been able to successfully slow the growth of the Spring Creek Basin wild horse herd population and significantly increase the interval between needed gathers and removal.
Oregon - Sandy Hayden began volunteering at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (ONA) in late 2015. Since then, she has been a one-person vegetation management crew removing non-native and invasive plants. Sandy’s weed eradication efforts reinforce a healthy land ethic and Yaquina Head’s mission to conserve scenic, natural and historic values.
Sandy quickly mastered the list of non-native or invasive plants species prioritized for removal. Using hand tools and hard work, Sandy has removed truckload after truckload of invasive Himalaya blackberry, tansy ragwort, English ivy and others. Although the bags of non-natives are not counted or weighed on a regular basis, at one point Sandy’s handiwork was stockpiled for two weeks and weighed in at over 300 pounds. Day after day, rain or shine, Sandy diligently appears with tools in hand and sets out to restore the plant community at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.
Outstanding Group Winner
Nevada - The Friends of Nevada Wilderness - Las Vegas Office (Friends) has been a partner of the BLM for over a decade and regularly recruits volunteers and hosts stewardship projects with the BLM that contribute to public engagement, stewardship, education, and conservation of all public lands in Southern Nevada. The Friends robust spring monitoring program assists the BLM in monitoring water quality and riparian habitat and Friends works with the BLM and Nevada OHV Commission to restore OHV intrusions and promote Nevada’s OHV registration programs.
2020 had unique challenges to many volunteer programs; however, Friends was able to work in unique ways to support the BLM with stewardship projects in a healthy and safe manner. Friends’ volunteers work directly with the BLM on conservation projects and develop a conservation ethic and an appreciation for public lands. Friends has made an invaluable contribution to the BLM Southern Nevada District Office, supports the mission of the BLM and provides lasting benefits to public lands and volunteers.
Outstanding Youth Winner
Wyoming - In June 2020, Cassie Hengel called the Buffalo Field Office looking for an internship. Unfortunately, there were no available internships, but that did not stop her or even slow her down. Cassie volunteered her time and service, and on her first day she completed trail rehabilitation on an illegal user-built trail. Over the next few months Cassie was available as a volunteer almost every single day and was willing to do anything she was asked to do. Over the course of the summer, she worked with the range program with fence construction and repair, the hydrology program with riverbank data collection, the seeds of success program with seed collection, the archaeology program with the Passport in Time (PIT) program, and the recreation program with numerous projects.
All of Cassie’s work contributed to the BLM’s mission of multiple use and sustained yield. She started out volunteering with the recreation program but was eager and willing to help in any area or program that she was needed. One person cannot complete all the recreation site maintenance, outreach, and education events solely (covering both Buffalo and Newcastle Field Offices) but Cassie’s service truly “made a difference.”