Humanity for Habitat
Early on a Saturday morning at a remote site along the Missouri River, a small group of people talk quietly among themselves. A few more people arrive and then everyone sets to work. Some begin cutting cedars, while others drag large logs through the mud.
This is not a commercial work crew. Instead, it is a group of Missouri Master Naturalists who have set aside the day to install turtle basking logs and to place fish-attracting structure in a scour hole along the Missouri River in the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.
The Missouri Master Naturalist program is a community-based, adult, natural resource education and volunteer program sponsored by the Department of Conservation, the University of Missouri Extension and the MU School of Natural Resources. The mission of the Master Naturalist program is to engage Missourians in the stewardship of our state’s natural resources through science-based education and volunteer service.
Ask Master Naturalists, and they might offer somewhat different descriptions of the program. Barbara Lucks of Springfield describes it as “an opportunity to learn, work with like-minded folks, and provide service back to my community.”
Leslie Limberg of the St. Charles Confluence Chapter says, “It’s the chance of a lifetime to get professionally educated by authentic, real-life foresters, naturalists, conservation educators, wildlife biologists, herpetologists, etc., and then to become a part of their network of wildlife support, doing things you’ve only ever seen on National Geographic specials.”
Participants become Certified Master Naturalists by completing a 40-hour course on Missouri natural history, natural communities and wildlife management, and natural resource interpretation. They also must contribute 40 hours of conservation-related volunteer service and complete an additional eight hours of advanced training within a year. Master Naturalists retain their certification by annually contributing 40 hours of volunteer service and taking eight hours of advanced training.
People are drawn to the Master Naturalist program for a variety of reasons. For Cindy Craig of West Plains it was her grandson’s questions about the North Fork River.
“His questions and young eagerness to learn,” she said, “impressed upon me one important fact: I didn’t have answers to any of his questions. That bothered this grandma!”
Most participants want to learn more about Missouri’s rich natural history. The 40-hour course covers a wide variety of topics, including basic ecological concepts, Missouri’s eco-regions and ecosystems, wildlife population and natural community management, rural and urban conservation issues, plant and animal identification, and much more. Special attention