Thursday, July 20, 2017

Bluestem Master Naturalists Support Grayson County Conservation Efforts

By Helen Vargus

In 2012 a small group with an interest in the natural world around them got together at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  With input from Friends of Hagerman board members, they developed a plan to develop a Texas Master Naturalist chapter to serve Grayson County.  They made application to the Texas Master Naturalist organization to charter the Bluestem Chapter, developed a curriculum, wrote by-laws and a chapter handbook.  In August of 2012, the new Bluestem Texas Master Naturalist chapter held their very first Texas Master Naturalist class with 12 individuals. 

Sneed Prairie Group Shot - Very First Class
                 Bluestem Master Naturalists are trained and certified volunteers who have a desire to learn more about their natural environment.  Naturalists have an interest in conserving the natural resources and ecological regions of Texas.   Training enables the volunteers to give back to their local communities by providing education and service. 

Bluestem Chapter of Texas Master Naturalist partners with Hagerman NWR, Friends of Hagerman, and Eisenhower State Park and provides volunteers for their programs and projects.  The Bluestem Chapter also has individual projects that they institute to serve these partners. 

At Hagerman NWR the Bluestem members receive service hours credit in multiple ways.  Bluestem members are involved in garden maintenance, trail maintenance and development, and tram vehicle maintenance.  They conduct citizen science for Cornell Ornithology Lab by monitoring bluebird houses and participating in weekly bird counts.  Butterfly Garden docents, Visitor Center volunteers, tram drivers, and leaders or aides for school trip visits and Refuge Rocks monthly youth programs provide educational opportunities to children and adults alike.  Some Bluestem members also serve on the Friends of Hagerman Board which sponsors many of the Refuge programs.

At Eisenhower State Park Bluestem members work closely with Ranger Kate Saling to help with TWPD activities and programs.  Bluestem Chapter has also adopted a section of prairie at Eisenhower for a prairie restoration project.

Bluestem Chapter sponsors short programs and day-long seminars which are open to the public to provide educational information on conservation issues property owners can use on their own properties whether they have acreages or small yards.  Some past programs have included Rainwater Conservation, Butterflies, Beekeeping, and Wildscapes for Wildlife.

An annual Bluestem Chapter event held at Hagerman NWR is a Nature O’logy one day summer experience for elementary students.  Campers learn about wildflowers, constructing bird houses, trail hikes, art and nature, and pond ecology.

2017 Nature O’logy Camp
You might find the Bluestem Chapter at the Earth Day in Sherman or other area festivals throughout the year.   For the past two years, they have provided a children’s corner and nature activities at the annual Grayson County Master Gardeners Fall Garden Show.

Texoma Earth Day Booth
             Texas Master Naturalists are encouraged to specialize in subjects that interest them. Some of our volunteers are trained as Texas Water Specialists and Texas Master Volunteer Insect Specialists. Many of our members conduct citizen science for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRahs) by daily monitoring precipitation on their own land. This collected data is used by organizations such as the National Weather Service, television meteorologists, farmers, hydrologists, researchers, emergency managers, and water resource managers. During the fall Monarch migration butterflies are caught, tagged, and released and the data is sent to Monarch Watch.

About the Texas Master Naturalist Organization
The Texas Master Naturalist organization is a statewide organization jointly sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  The goals of the program are to improve public understanding of natural resource ecology and management through the development of a local body of knowledge and to provide educational training and development of volunteers who can provide volunteer service to the residents of Texas.
The first Texas Master Naturalist chapter was developed in 1997 in San Antonio.  Within two years programs had extended to the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin areas.  As they approach their 20th Anniversary as a state-wide organization more than 48 chapters exist serving 194 Texas counties and new chapters are forming all the time.  This program has been used as the model for Master Naturalist programs throughout the United States.
                Since its inception, more than 416 partnerships have been developed.  Texas Master Naturalist organizations have trained nearly 10,500 volunteers.  Volunteers contributed more than 3.262 million hours of volunteer service valued at $75 million dollars to the state of Texas.  More than 221,357 acres of wildlife and native plant habitats have been impacted.  Trails maintained and developed number 2,015 miles.  Contacts with Texas residents of all ages more than 5.365 million.

How to Participate:  Bluestem Chapter 2017 Texas Master Naturalist Classes Forming Now           
The Texas Master Naturalist Program has three components leading to certification as a Texas Master Naturalist.  Individuals will attend 40 hours of Initial Basic Training.  Interns will provide 40 hours of volunteer service and a take an additional 8 hours of Advanced Training.  Upon completion of these requirements, an intern becomes a certified Texas Master Naturalist.  Master Naturalists recertify each year by donating 40 hours of service and receiving 8 hours of Advanced Training.
 Instructors for the Initial Training classes will come from Austin College, Grayson College, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M Agri-Life, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Heard Museum, Texas Master Naturalist, and individuals with specialties in Conservation, Ornithology, Citizen Science, and Archaeology.
If you have an interest in the natural world and a desire to learn more about conserving our natural resources, plan to join us on August 15, 2017, as we begin our next Texas Master Naturalist Training Class.  Classes will run from August 15 through December 5. The cost for the class is $100 per individual which includes a copy of the textbook, Texas Master Naturalist.  For more information visit our website at or visit our Facebook page: Bluestem Chapter of Texas Master Naturalist.

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