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July 26, 2004
Texas Master Naturalist Program Spreads Nationwide
AUSTIN, Texas—Approximately 30 states are interested in developing citizen volunteer training projects using the Texas Master Naturalist program as a framework, according to a new coordinator hired by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to help spread the movement nationwide.
Master Naturalists are volunteers who receive training in natural sciences and, in return, assist state wildlife agencies with conservation projects. Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and West Virginia already have active Master Naturalist programs. Michigan and Missouri have created a new program based on the Texas Master Naturalist program.
TPWD, in partnership with Texas Cooperative Extension, started the nation’s first statewide Master Naturalist program in 1998. Today, there are 28 established chapters across the state comprising about 2,500 trained volunteers.
Since inception, Texas Master Naturalist volunteers have provided more than 164,000 hours of service valued at more than $2.7 million. Volunteer efforts have enhanced 29,450 acres of wildlife and native plant habitats.
Volunteers receive in-depth training in wildlife and natural resource management taught by recognized experts in the field and customized to focus on the native ecosystems of their home region. In return, volunteers provide volunteer community service through educational activities, projects, or demonstrations. For example, some volunteers serve on a speaker’s bureau to make presentations to community organizations or introduce children to local plants, insects, and animals through after-school projects. Others serve as a guide at a local nature center, or might build trails or exhibits at a local park.
Anna Toness was hired by TPWD in October of 2003 as the national Master Naturalist program coordinator as part of a multi-state partnership. The program is being funded by federal money from the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency’s multi-state conservation grant program.
"The goal of this project is to involve state wildlife agencies in the creation of a national network made up of at least 20 states that have Master Naturalist volunteer and training programs, in order to produce a corps of educated volunteers who help partner state agencies accomplish more conservation and greater outreach throughout the United States," Toness said.
Texas has been leading this effort and it will benefit TPWD through improved networking, learning and sharing with other state agencies about how to improve conservation efforts through communication and outreach.
Missouri was the first state to call and express interest in moving forward in developing a program. Toness says that since then, some 30 other states have contacted her wanting to learn more about the program. Interested states were invited to attend a training workshop in February, where the Texas program was used as a framework for developing programs appropriate for other states.
Toness said nationwide expansion of the program taps into the growth in volunteerism and increased interest among citizens, including retirees, in learning about the natural environment.
"Whether it is in education, outreach, maintaining trails, or interpretation, people are interested in taking personal action to help people appreciate and protect our natural world," Toness said.
Toness added that any person who has an interest in natural resources and has the time to volunteer would be an ideal candidate for the Master Naturalist program. The curriculum covers wildlife, geology, weather, climate, soils, wetlands, woodlot management, conservation management and natural resource management.
For more information about the Texas Master Naturalist program or to find a chapter in your area, visit the Web (http://masternaturalist.tamu.edu/). To learn more about the national workshops, visit the Web (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/volunteer/txmasnat/workshop/).
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