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Welcome to the Forest Service: A Guide for Volunteers


The Forest Service is concerned about your safety as a volunteer. Safety is part of each work day; no job is so urgent or important that it cannot be done safely. A Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) will be completed and discussed for each job performed (figure 13). Refer to the "Health and Safety Code Handbook" (FSH 6709.11) for standards of safe and healthy working conditions.

Photo of two individuals receiving instruction from a Forest Service supervisor on a small boat.
Figure 13—Instructing students in safety before
electrofishing during a project for the NatureWatch program.
Courtesy Dr. Jim Taylor, Ouachita National Forest

Every volunteer is responsible for working in a safe manner and should point out unsafe practices and hazards to others. Specialized training is required to use some tools and equipment.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as seat belts, hardhats, goggles, and so forth, are available and must be used. The following list includes common PPE requirements. Additional information on required PPE is in the "Health and Safety Code Handbook" (FSH 6709.11, chapter 70).

All work projects:

  • Appropriate first aid kit

All field work: (figure 14)

  • Forest Service-approved hardhat, as necessary
  • Long pants, long-sleeved shirt, as necessary
  • Gloves
  • Nonskid boots
  • Personal communication device
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen lotion with UV protection for intense sun conditions
  • Insect repellent when needed

Photo of an individual marking trees. The volunteer is shown wearing full personal protective equipment.
Figure 14—A volunteer wears appropriate personal
protective equipment while maintaining the Florida Trail.
Courtesy of Bob Stone, Florida Trail Association

Personal Safety

The personal safety of volunteers is a primary concern for the Forest Service. Violence or the threat of violence by or against any volunteer is unacceptable. To help you protect your personal safety, take the following precautions when working with the public.

When working in remote work locations:

  • Use a check-out/check-in system.
  • Carry a radio or cellular phone.
  • Be familiar with the unit's communication plan. Know whom to call.
  • Don't work alone.
  • Be aware of your immediate area. Be suspicious of unusual or abnormal activity, objects, or individuals.
  • If you are confronted by an angry person, keep a safe distance away. If the person does not quickly calm down, leave the area immediately.
  • If you think a situation or person may be dangerous, leave the area and report it to a supervisor, local authority, or the nearest law enforcement agency.

For more information, refer to the Forest Service's "Personal Safety in Remote Work Locations" video series, also available on DVD (a copy of this program can be obtained from your volunteer coordinator).

When working in the office:

  • Work in pairs, when possible.
  • Have two exits from behind any desk and have an escape route to a safe area.
  • If you are confronted by an angry person, keep a safe distance away. If the person does not quickly calm down, immediately leave the area.
  • If you think a situation or person may be dangerous, leave the area and report the incident to a supervisor or law enforcement officer.
  • If protesters show up at the office, lock the door and call a law enforcement officer.
  • When you have money in the office for fee collections and sales, keep the money locked up and out of sight. If someone robs you at the office, hand over the money. Call a law enforcement officer once the robber has left.


You may travel by vehicle, foot, animal, or all-terrain vehicle while working for the Forest Service.


Volunteers may operate Government vehicles if the volunteer agreement authorizes them to do so and the use is for official business. Volunteers must be trained, tested, qualified, and certified in the same manner as Forest Service employees. To operate Government vehicles, volunteers must hold a valid State driver's license and take a defensive driving training course every 3 years (a Forest Service, a National Safety Council, or an equivalent defensive driving course). If approved to drive, a volunteer may be issued a letter of authorization in place of Form OF-346, U.S. Government Motor Vehicle Operator's Identification Card (FSH 7109.19, chapter 60).

When driving:

  • Drive defensively.
  • Drive with the lights on at all times.
  • Wear seatbelts (no exceptions).
  • Observe speed limits.
  • Have a spotter assist when backing.
  • Take plenty of breaks.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Don't eat.
  • Don't pick up hitchhikers.
  • Don't use cell phones.
  • Never operate a vehicle if you have been drinking alcoholic beverages.

Foot Travel

When volunteers know the area and prepare for the job, they're much more likely to have an enjoyable experience (figure 15). Here are a few commonsense suggestions for hiking or working in the field. Check a project's JHA for specific requirements.

Photo of three individuals picking up trash along a river with 3 inches of snow covering the ground.
Figure 15—Volunteers pick up trash along the Tellico River
in 3 inches of snow during March 2008 as part of the annual Tellico River cleanup.
Courtesy of Mary Jane Burnette, Cherokee National Forest, Tellico Ranger Districts

PPE requirements for foot travel include:

  • Wear shoes with slip-resistant heels and soles with firm, flexible support. Work boots are required for trail crews.
  • Wear clothing suited to the location, climate, and job.
  • Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and gloves, as necessary.
  • Wear sunglasses or safety glasses in brushy country for eye protection.
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Bring a communication device (two-way radio or cellular phone).
  • Carry a first aid kit.
  • Bring water.
  • Bring lunch or a snack.

When traveling by foot:

  • Avoid traveling or working alone.
  • Be sure others know where you are working.
  • Do warmup and stretching exercises to prevent injury.
  • Watch your step and make sure you have secure footing. Walk, don't run.
  • Maintain a safe walking distance between people.
  • Always be on guard for falling trees, snags, limbs, rolling logs, or rocks.

Horses and Packstock

Many volunteers use their horses or other packstock while doing volunteer work (figure 16).

Photo of a horseman riding through a meadow with two pack horses in tow behind him.
Figure 16—The Shasta Trinity unit of the Backcountry Horsemen
of California provided all the logistical support for a project in the Trinity Alps.
Courtesy of Larry Shuman, Shasta Trinity unit

Select the appropriate packstock for the specific work project or activity. Animals that display dangerous characteristics or habits cannot be used. Forest Service defensive horsemanship training is required in the Northern Region and recommended elsewhere. To help you complete this training, the Missoula Technology and Development Center produced a defensive horsemanship training course "Defensive Horse Safety." This course can be obtained from your volunteer coordinator.

Standard PPE for riding includes:

  • First aid kit.
  • Riding boots, field boots, or work shoes that will not hang up in stirrups.
  • Protective head gear designed for riding is recommended for inexperienced riders and should be available on request.

Safe riding practices include:

  • Always speak to an animal when approaching it.
  • Check the animal's shoes for excessive wear and looseness.
  • Inspect the bridle and saddle to ensure they are in good condition.
  • Always lead an animal around after it has been saddled.
  • Be alert for insects, animals, objects, and people that may spook the animal.
  • Do not wrap or tie reins around the saddlehorn.
  • Watch out for low-hanging obstacles, such as branches and wires.
  • Do not run the animal.
  • Always have a pocket knife or a multipurpose tool where your can reach it.
  • Do not secure tools or equipment on stock that are being ridden. Don't carry tools in your hands while riding.
  • When tying a horse, secure it to a post or tree (or something else that cannot be easily moved or broken) with a slip knot. In an emergency, the slip knot can be pulled loose quickly and easily. • Get off and lead a horse over excessively rocky or very steep terrain or other areas where the horse may not have secure footing.

All-Terrain and Utility Terrain Vehicles (ATVs and UTVs)

Many ATV and UTV riders enjoy the outdoors and use the national forests for recreation. Many of these riders volunteer to maintain, patrol, and clean up trails (figure 17a). If you want to use your ATV or UTV while volunteering, you will need to meet some requirements before going to work.

Photo of an ATV club picking up trash along an ATV forest trail.
Figure 17a—Club members volunteer to help the Forest Service
keep the trails safe by removing litter and debris.
Courtesy of Lisa Marcum, Daniel Boone Trailblazers ATV Club leader

Only qualified and authorized volunteers can operate ATVs and UTVs. Qualifications include:

  • Familiarity with the Forest Service Driver-Operator Guide (EM–7130–2) and the ATV/ UTV manufacturer's operating manual.
  • Successful completion of the ATV Safety Institute (ASI) ATV Rider Course training or equivalent training that is approved by the forest supervisor, assistance director, or line officer having responsibility for the task or project.
  • A valid Operator's Identification Card, OF-346, which documents the rider's qualifications. For volunteers, a letter of authorization may be issued in place of Form OF-346 (FSH 7109.19, chapter 60).
  • Reevaluation by a certified trainer every 3 years. Infrequent users (less than 16 hours of rides a year), including volunteers, must have a check ride by a certified trainer before using an ATV/UTV.

PPE requirements for ATV and UTV travel include:

  • First aid kit
  • Personal communications device
  • Motorcycle helmet (full or three-quarter face)
  • Gloves
  • Long pants and long-sleeved shirt or jacket
  • Appropriate footwear
  • Eye protection

When operating an ATV or UTV:

  • Operators shall be authorized in writing by their supervisor to operate an ATV/UTV.
  • The supervisor shall ensure that a JHA is prepared for each work activity involving use of ATV/UTVs. For more information on what should be considered in the JHA, see FSH 6709.11.
  • All participants shall review the hazards identified in the JHA for the project or trip before beginning operations. Changes in operating conditions require reevaluation of the JHA and necessitate a review of any new hazards.
  • Before riding, always perform a maintenance check such as T-CLOC (Tires/Controls/Lights/ Oil/Chassis), ASI checklist, or a similar check as specified by the manufacturer.
  • An annual maintenance inspection by the manufacturer, a certified ATV/UTV mechanic, or the fleet manager's designee is required.
  • Do not carry passengers on ATVs.
  • Carry no more than the manufacturer's recommended number of passengers on UTVs. The operator and each passenger shall have their own seat belt, and it must be fastened at all times when the vehicle is in motion.

When parking the ATV/UTV:

  • Engage brake.
  • Shift transmission into low range/low gear.
  • Block tires when parking on an incline/decline.
  • Turn off and remove keys if appropriate.
  • If parking for longer than 1 or 2 days, turn fuel supply line valve to "Off."

When carrying equipment, equalize the load to maintain balance, stability, and center of gravity. Never exceed the manufacturer's maximum carrying capacity of either axle or cargo rack as specified in the ATV/UTV owner's manual. Follow the manufacturer's loading instructions.

  • Secure all tools or equipment transported on ATV/UTVs. Observe additional precautions when carrying liquids.
  • Secure equipment on an ATV as close to the rider as possible to keep the center of gravity close to the center of the machine, but not where the equipment will make it difficult for the operator to dismount in an emergency.
  • Do not exceed the manufacturer's maximum towing capacity specified in the vehicle owner's manual. The manufacturer's specified towing capacity varies depending on grade or slope of the terrain to be traveled. In addition, do not exceed the trailer's weight rating.
  • Do not drive recklessly, speed, or engage in horseplay (figure 17b).
  • Do not enter deep or swiftly moving water.
  • Do not modify the frame, electrical systems, or other components of the ATV/UTV's mechanical configuration (with few exceptions).
  • Develop and follow a check-out/check-in procedure. Provide a copy to the supervisor.
  • The JHA must include chemical name, classification, quantity, and precautions to be taken in the event of an accident when hazardous materials or pesticides are being transported. Ensure that the JHA includes the actions to activate emergency procedures as appropriate for the region and State in the event of an accidental discharge.
  • Each UTV must have at least one secured 2.5- pound ABC fire extinguisher when UTVs are transporting external fuel containers.
  • Riding alone is prohibited, unless authorized by a supervisor and addressed in the JHA.

Photo of four individuals riding ATV's down a forest trail.
Figure 17b—Members of the Daniel Boone Trailblazers ATV Club
help in maintaining safe trails for everyone to enjoy.
Courtesy of Lisa Marcum, Daniel Boone Trailblazers ATV Club leader

The above information came from FSH 6709.11, chapter 10, secs. 13-13.24, interim directive–exp. 8/6/09. For possible changes in this information, refer to FSH 6709.11.