Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary is seeking more volunteers to do maintenance work as the sanctuary faces their busiest time of year with a shortage of full-time volunteers.
The Rosseau-based sanctuary has minimal staff with only two full-time employees and a handful of part-time staff, said Linda Glimps, director of fundraising and volunteer management for Aspen Valley, so they rely heavily on volunteers. It’s a particularly busy time for the sanctuary as they attempt to maintain their property while also caring for over 200 animals in their rehabilitation program as well as 30 permanent wildlife residents. The sanctuary usually hosts 16 full-time volunteers that reside on the property during the summer, but because nearly half of these volunteers are international students, last minute cancellations caused by COVID-19 travel restrictions have left the sanctuary short of full-time help.
The sanctuary has placed some animals with foster families in the community to help address the shortage, but they’re also asking members of the community to help out with maintenance work at the sanctuary.
“If they have skills, that’s great, and if they don’t have skills but they’re not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get dirty, we welcome them as well,” Glimps said. “When people approach us and they want to volunteer, we take that as a blessing and we take that as an opportunity. There is usually always something to do [at] the sanctuary where we will find a fit for somebody who is wanting to volunteer.”
The message extends to those under 18 as well, as long as they have a guardian who can work alongside them. Volunteers under 18 aren’t able to participate in the sanctuary’s animal care program, but Glimps said they’ll always find a way to get young people involved in their work. Some students have spent their own time gathering acorns and pinecones for the staff to feed to wildlife, she said, while others have fulfilled volunteer hours doing things like yard work or cleaning animal carriers.
“We will always look for volunteer opportunities, regardless of people’s age,” Glimps said. “We want to foster those relationships. We don’t want to curb any enthusiasm with anybody who is young who wants to help wildlife.”
Whether it’s repairing equipment, building new enclosures or cutting the grass, Glimps says there are many different tasks ready for volunteers at the sanctuary. Some locals that were out of work due to the pandemic offered to volunteer in March and April, but their options for volunteer work were limited by the remaining snow on the property. Now is the perfect time to get people out to the sanctuary, Glimps said.
Maintenance volunteers are only working outside and don’t have access to the Aspen Valley’s facilities or full-time volunteers to ensure there isn’t an outbreak of COVID-19 at the sanctuary. Staff are also making sure that the tasks given to maintenance workers allow them to observe proper social distancing recommendations while working on the 460-acre property.
In addition to the shortage of volunteers, the pandemic has also led to a decline in revenue for the sanctuary. One of the ways they raise money is through guided tours, which are on hold due to the pandemic. About 83 per cent of their ticket sales come in the summer, so that along with a dip in donations means money is tighter than usual at the sanctuary. For those who want to support their work but don’t have the time or ability to volunteer, the sanctuary’s Wildlife In Care fund provides a way to donate money directly to the sanctuary to support their operations and their animals.
“It gives us the flexibility to spend the money where it’s most needed,” Glimps said. “For instance, right now, we are very busy with the intake of injured and orphaned wildlife. This is a very expensive time of year for us with their rehabilitation, and so having the funds in our general Wildlife In Care fund allows us to use that money as it’s needed.”
Sanctuary staff recognize that the pandemic is affecting businesses and families financially, Glimps said, so it’s important to remember that you can still support the sanctuary even if you’re unable to make a donation or volunteer your time.
“It doesn’t mean that you still can’t be an advocate,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that you still can’t share our Facebook posts or any of our Instagram social media postings. Get the word out that if you’re talking with your neighbour and they think that they have an injured animal and don’t know what to do, call us for advice. We’re available 365 days a year, we never close.”
Glimps said she’s always surprised to find that so many people are not aware of the sanctuary when staff attend community events. The more people that are aware of the sanctuary, the more wildlife they can help, so she hopes that the community will rally behind the sanctuary however they’re able, whether it’s volunteering, making a donation or simply spreading the word.
“Wildlife do need care,” Glimps said. “There’s more traffic on the roads, there’s more development that is happening up in this area and development disrupts wildlife…we are a community service that definitely needs to be sustained so that we can continue to do what we do.”
Visit Aspen Valley’s website to apply as a volunteer, make a donation or learn more about the sanctuary. Aspen Valley is also looking for a volunteer Facilities Program Manager – click here to learn more about the role.