From: Kent Wellner, Trails and Dispersed Recreation Program Manager
USDA Forest Service, Northern Region
When volunteers and many partner groups sign up with the US Forest Service to help accomplish work on trails, work as campground hosts, or assist the Forest Service in any one of the many resources areas, they are treated just like an employee in respect to liability and potential injuries.
Until just recently, any Workers Compensation claim would be covered by the local unit of the National Forest and that created budgetary concerns by local line officers signing up volunteers and partner groups. Now, the Forest Service appropriations that fund Worker Compensation claims are taken care of at the national level and not at the local level. The appropriate function (Recreation, Trails, Wildlife, etc.) still pays the amount covered by OWCP but removing the “bill” from the local level and covering it nationally helps incentivize the local line officer to continue to work with and sign up volunteers and partner groups. This was done to help remove the concern and budget burden on local National Forests.
Editor’s Note: With proposed massive budget cuts for the Forest Service and other federal agencies, those agencies must rely more on volunteers and assistance from private non-profits to keep trails and recreation areas open. This change with workman’s comp creates opportunities for enhanced cooperation between federal agencies and the private sector!