Wildlife Volunteers at the Bear Sanctuary

Ever thought how wonderful it would be to work outdoors among large wild black bears? Would you like to meet new people from across the United States and throughout the world? This is what we, at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, are privileged to be able to do every day from May to October.

Although the work is not always glamorous, it is very rewarding. Time spent at the bear sanctuary will be simply unforgettable and a life-changing experience. As a grassroots organization, we rely on the teamwork and dedication of our volunteer staff. We are always on the lookout for enthusiastic, reliable and hardworking volunteers to keep our operation running smoothly. You don’t need a background in biology to volunteer and all training will be done on-site. . Many volunteers come year after year to work with the bears or to work on various special projects that utilize their unique skills. We are always looking for those that have carpentry, electric, automotive maintenance, and similar skills. If any of this interests you, please contact us to see what projects we are currently working on or planning for the upcoming season.

What will I do as a Wildlife Volunteer?

Many jobs are available at the sanctuary. We work with individuals to find jobs that fit their interests, skills and availability. While there are some tasks that do not require a volunteer to be in exceptionally good physical health, a large part of the work is manual labor. Therefore, a degree of physical stamina and fitness is recommended.

Morning/afternoon jobs:

  • Picking up and/or unloading supplies, including 50-pound bags of seed and 35-pound bags of fruit and nuts. Heavy lifting is often a part of ‘bear chores’
  • Daily cleanup of feeding areas and scat removal
  • Maintaining the property, including carpentry projects
  • Planting, mulching, weed-eating and other landscape improvement projects
  • Preparing and distributing bear food mixtures
  • Photograph individual bears for records
  • There are also opportunities to work with the MN DNR on the MN annual berry study
  • Cooking meals & grocery shopping for staff and volunteers, and kitchen cleanup
  • Cabin clean-up & laundry
  • Write articles for our newsletter, Bear in Mind
  • Prepare educational material for our followers on Facebook and Instagram and our email subscribers

Jobs during evening/visitors’ hours include:

  • Assisting with admission and parking cars
  • Greeting visitors and answering their questions
  • Educating the public about black bears, ecology, practical environmental conservation and land stewardship
  • Sale of souvenirs and educational materials in the gift shop
  • Promoting membership to the American Bear Association
  • Shuttling visitors to the elevated platform via bus

What are the requirements for the volunteer program?

All volunteers must read The American Bear Association’s Volunteer Handbook and be willing to complete a liability waiver form. Volunteers must also fill out an application and send; a resume and one reference. Volunteers must be responsible, safety-minded, and always aware that bears are wild and unpredictable animals. A volunteer’s day may start as early as 6:30 am and end as late as 9:30pm (with time off in the afternoon). Many of the daily, bear chores are strenuous! YOU MUST BE OVER 18 YRS OLD TO VOLUNTEER WITH ABA.

How do I apply?

Decide when you’d like to volunteer, then fill out a Volunteer Application and email it to us. Alternatively call The American Bear Association office at 218-757-0172 and the office personnel will let you know if volunteers are needed on your preferred days and can answer any questions you may have about volunteering at the Sanctuary.

What length of time should I commit to?

There are no minimum or maximum lengths of stay, but due to limited availability give preference to those we stay at least a week. We have volunteers who come for a weekend and others who stay for the entire summer. First-time volunteers should consider that an initial stay of 3-5 days may not be long enough to become familiar with the operation and the bears as we do require a 48 hour waiting period before being allowed on the grounds, therefore it is preferred that first time volunteers stay a minimum of one week. Coordination and scheduling are easier if volunteers sign up for periods of a week or longer; however, we recognize that people have busy schedules, and may only be able to volunteer for a day or two! Alternatively, we offer volunteer programs to those that live locally and can coordinate with you to get you on a weekly schedule in which you volunteer the same day, each week, for the season! We typically need volunteers from May 1st through October 15th of each year. Our college students begin to go back to school in August so we are ALWAYS in need of help late July-September and almost always can provide room and board then.

Where will I stay while working with the bears?

Because of our expanded internship program, it can be difficult to provide housing for short-term volunteers, although every effort is made to accommodate long-term volunteers on site. You will be notified of the availability of on site housing when you call or email to apply. It is important to remember that there is limited electricity, running water, and telephone service at the sanctuary.
Please Note: Tent camping  or campers with soft sides are not allowed.

You may wish to make arrangements with Cabin O’Pines (218-757-3122, www.cabinopines.com) which is the campground/resort closest to the sanctuary. They offer a 10% discount to sanctuary volunteers. In addition, Orr has a variety of accommodations, all of which are clean, comfortable, and run by friendly people. For information about other alternatives (motels, resorts, and campgrounds) contact the Orr Tourist Information Center at 1-800-357-9255 or visit www.orrpelicanlake.com.

Are there amenities located near the Bear Sanctuary?

The sanctuary is located in the beautiful north woods of Minnesota. The closest town (approx. 13 miles) is Orr, MN – population 211. Although small, the town boasts a number of churches, a grocery store, a gas station, a laundromat, restaurants, motels, and other services. A small hospital is within a 30 minute drive and major medical facilities are offered in Duluth, two hours south. Campgrounds and numerous resorts are located on nearby Pelican Lake. Recreational opportunities include fishing and boating on area lakes and canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe area. The International Wolf Center, North American Bear Center, Sax-Zim Bog and Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, Superior National Forest, and Voyageurs National Park are popular local destinations.

What will it cost me to volunteer?

We do not charge a fee for you to come to the sanctuary as a volunteer. The cost of traveling to and from the sanctuary is the responsibility of the volunteer. Off-site lodging, if necessary or desired, and personal items are also the volunteer’s responsibility. Whether you stay on site or off, we encourage all volunteers to come together at mealtime. You may make your meals separately at your own expense, or join the rest of the crew to partake in camaraderie that accompanies each meal. If you have special dietary requirements, such as being a vegetarian, they will be at your own expense.

What are the benefits of volunteering?

Wow! Where should we start? The primary benefit of volunteering at the sanctuary is the enjoyment of working and spending time with black bears in their natural environment. The chance to see cubs nurse, bears play, and a variety of other behaviors that even seasoned researchers seldom see, serves as an inspiration for all the volunteers who donate their time. Most of all, knowing your contributions are helping to make a difference on behalf of bears and all natural resources provides the greatest reward for most people. Volunteering at the Sanctuary also provides a great chance to gain valuable experience in working with wildlife, natural resources, and environmental education. An added bonus is the opportunity to photograph bears, birds, butterflies, and more at a safe distance. The recreational photography of volunteers must NEVER interfere with tasks that need to be completed for the day. It also cannot occur when the visiting public is present or when professional workshops are in session.

Many of our volunteers enjoy meeting and working with people from different countries and at the sanctuary we get international volunteers from all around the world.

Not every moment at the sanctuary is spent in hard labor. At the end of a day’s work, we often enjoy wonderful campfires. On other occasions, we take a break and indulge in a barbeque, picnic, take a swim in the nearby Pelican Lake or other social activities.