Master Naturalist

Ecosystems: Grass - Pond - Forest

Many states have a Master Gardner program, typically managed through the local county extension agent’s office.  These programs teach people to become better gardeners and to pass on that training to others.  A similar program is often called Master Naturalist, but goes by different names in different places including:

These programs are typically associated with County Extension Offices, but may be led by other organizations or governmental units.  There is an overarching group made up of educators that work with these programs called the Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs.  They have a more complete, but not exhaustive list on the ANROSP website.

The Oregon Program

Boy NaturalistI recently attended an informational meeting about the Oregon Master Naturalist Program. While it is quite similar to other programs, each has its own variations.  In Oregon the program is managed by Oregon State University Extension.  They have divided the state into eco-regions and currently offer training in four or five of them.

The training has nothing to do with trying to create environmentalists.  Rather,  it is intended to teach people about the many forces that affect our environment and how they relate to each other.  The training is tailored to different eco-regions, because the environment varies so much from one to another and it works best if people are trained with a focus on the area where they live.

 

Statewide Coursework

In Oregon the coursework addresses geology, watershed functions, forests, rangelands, wildlife and even climate change.  Training typically starts with online core material that addresses relationships in the environment on a statewide basis.  It is basically an overview of the state’s natural history and the history of management of its natural resources that led to the conditions we see on the ground today.  The course work is offered over a twelve week period, usually once per year.

 

Eco-Region Coursework

At the local level, extension agents and those already certified as Master Naturalists put together a program where local experts on various natural resources take the students on field trips where they can see and learn while immersed in key environments.  The program that is centered in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where I live, will include visits to:

  • shrub, steppe and rangeland ecosystems
  • places of particular geological interest
  • forest ecosystems
  • aquatic and riparian ecosystems
  • and the ecosystems of Crater Lake National Park

Becoming Certified

There are three steps to becoming certified in Oregon:

  1. Complete the online coursework (and pass a test)
  2. Complete the eco-regional coursework
  3. Volunteer with a natural resources oriented group or project for a minimum of 40 hours within a year of completing the coursework.

There may also be fees.  In our case it costs $575 to become certified, but scholarships may be available if the cost is too much of a burden.  Certification doesn’t end there either.  To keep certified you must continue volunteering 40 hours per year and get at least 8 hours of continuing education each year.

For those that want to volunteer as an educator or nature interpreter, a special 2-day course is also offered.

Getting Involved

To get involved, check the list of these programs provided by ANROSP.  If you can’t find a program in your area, try a Google search using the name of your state along with “Master Naturalist.”  If that fails,  you can always call your local county extension agent.  One way to find them is provided on a web page offered by the National Pesticide Information Center.  Once you connect with the right people, you will find the schedules for their coursework and the details of getting certified in your area.

Getting Outdoors

If you like to get outdoors, explore and stoke your interest in all things nature, programs like this are made for you.  With this kind of background, your adventures will take on deeper meaning as you use your new found knowledge to explain the many oddities you find on your journeys.  I plan to start my training this summer.  You might consider it as well!

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One Response to “Master Naturalist”

  1. Rhonda Garigen says:

    The master naturalist program in Florida is wonderful. So many of us move here in our retirement. This program helps you get to know your new home in a way so many miss. Florida is so different than northern states, and the ecosystems are incredible.

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