Employee volunteers are a crucial part of many conservation programs, contributing the ideas, labor and enthusiasm needed to keep projects going. It can be difficult, however, to convince staff members to volunteer their time when they are already occupied with their day-to-day job duties. The challenges of engaging staff often become more apparent as personnel changes occur over time, bringing in new employees who don’t have a sense of ownership in on-site conservation work.
When the team at the Vulcan Materials Villa Rica Quarry in Georgia first implemented a conservation program in the 1990s, their work focused on birds. Wavering employee interest impacted the sustainability of this avian project, however, and the program’s WHC Conservation Certification® ultimately expired. In late 2018, the team began to work on a new initiative. This time around, they planned and implemented the program with an acute attention to employees’ interests, namely their passion for sustainable deer hunting. The revitalized conservation program achieved WHC Certification in 2020.
The Villa Rica Quarry is located about 40 miles west of Atlanta on land that features an acre of forest with red oak, white oak and loblolly pine trees, as well as muscadine grapevines. The site has always been home to a robust deer population and many employees are avid hunters, so when the team reviewed project options, a deer management project was the clear choice. As this was the first deer project implemented in Vulcan’s Southeast Division, the team worked closely with WHC Consulting to ensure success.
To ensure that deer have ample food, employees monitor trees and bushes located on-site and have provided additional forage sources. They originally planted two food plots (one by the on-site office building, the other by a pond) using vegetation like partridge peas. While the pond plantings did not survive, the office plot has flourished without any supplemental watering or weeding, and deer began visiting it right away. Deer and other animals are monitored monthly through a game camera within this plot. This use of technology helps employees complete monitoring in less time, making the project more accessible to them.
Using timeframes established by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the team invites Vulcan employees with hunting permits to partake in annual deer harvests. Carol Landrum, Manager, Community & Government Relations for Vulcan’s Southeast Division, explains that this practice facilitates “monitoring of the property, proper controls on the deer population and continued interest in the program by our employees.” As deer are harvested, their sex, age and weight are recorded, in addition to males’ antler sizes and a general health assessment. As more data is collected, the team hopes to gain insights on the buck-to-doe ratio of their deer population and will use this information to shape their yearly harvesting guidelines.
Carol helped to keep the project on-track during implementation and as the 2020 Certification deadline approached. This entailed close collaboration with two employees, Mike Watson, Plant Supervisor, and Michael Sullens, Quality Control Technician. Carol’s first task was working with Villa Rica leadership and employees to ensure that they had an interest in pursuing recertification, and that they had the bandwidth to meet the associated deadlines. Once employees pledged their support, Carol conducted quarterly check-in calls to ensure that the project was progressing and that the team was consistently recording the information needed for their certification application. Throughout the process, Carol was impressed by the team’s dedication, particularly given the challenges of the past year. “Despite tackling a new project and doing so during a global pandemic, the team stayed the course and achieved their goal,” she recalls. “We have found that our employees, when presented with clear goals and deadlines, will work to accomplish them, no matter the task.”
Since achieving Certification, Carol and the Villa Rica team have continued expanding the project. In March 2021, the site team planted an orchard with six crabapple trees to provide additional food options for the deer. Moving forward, the team plans on continuing their regular check-ins to discuss ways to enhance the project and maintain its momentum.
Thus far, the deer project has been a great fit for the team — Carol explains that “a deer management project is a good project for a team with a small workforce and limited resources.” She reinforces that it was important to align the project with employees’ passions. “Employees at a mining operation are fully engaged in their primary job and wildlife monitoring is not an easy duty to add to that. Getting their buy-in up front on a project in which they have an interest was key.” With a focus uniquely suited to the site and its employees, this mammal project is primed for success and longevity.
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