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Giving back to mother nature: Environmental volunteering tips

Apr 20, 2012, 8:18 a.m.

While Mother Nature can become cranky at times, she has taken care of we humans -- and all living things -- or time immemorial. Consider giving something back with enjoyable environmental volunteer opportunities. Learning how to help nature also helps our planet stay in good shape.

Recent years have fostered concerns about reducing our "carbon footprints." Scientists suggest we lower our carbon dioxide emissions and increase our oxygen footprint. Learning how to help nature involves thinking "green" and helping, not hurting, our environment. Here are some suggestions from AARP:

Get involved with planting projects. Plants and trees turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. Unfortunately, Earth has lost around 11,000 square miles of forest. Consider environmental volunteer opportunities, such as working with the Arbor Day Foundation, that focus on local planting projects to increase our foliage.

Consider an environmental vacation. There are organizations that arrange "conservation vacations," offering environmental volunteer opportunities as part of the travel plans. For example, the Sierra National Outings program sponsors 90 annual "service trips," encompassing around 27,000 hours for those wondering how to help nature. Along with enjoying outdoor natural beauty, some travelers participate in more exotic functions, such as banding penguins in Antarctica or helping sea turtles in Pacific environs.

Participate in community gardens. Along with planting, maintaining and harvesting organically grown fruits and veggies, participants often develop long-lasting new friendships with other community gardeners. These environmental volunteer opportunities are fun and help foster our fragile ecosystems. With more than 18,000 community gardens in the U.S., digging, planting and watering in a community fashion is growing rapidly around the country.

Clean up streams and rivers. American Rivers sponsors the National River Cleanup program with 60,000 volunteers cleaning up millions of tons of trash from over 6,000 miles of streams and rivers. Those concerned with how to help nature can also organize their own local events through AARP's Create the Good program.

Help National Parks with the VIP program. The National Park Service sponsors the Volunteers-in-Parks (VIPs) program to help with their $11 billion (with a "b") backlogged maintenance projects. VIP environmental participants can help park rangers by volunteering as trail guides, campfire leaders, patrols, and/or preserving archeological discoveries. The U.S. Forest Service also offers environmental volunteer opportunities for those preferring to help nature in even more natural settings.

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