If you are a lover of golf, you have undoubtedly watched the Masters Tournament a time or two. If you have a green thumb (on each hand) and have received some extra training in horticulture, you might be a Master Gardener. You may have earned a master’s degree, watched Masterpiece Theatre or have a Mastercard in your wallet. But do you know what a Master Naturalist is?
An Idaho Master Naturalist is a person who enjoys nature, outdoor recreation, supporting conservation and is interested in continually learning more about the natural world around us. It is someone who then channels their skills, interest, and energy to volunteer at nature centers, help biologists collect data, monitor wildlife, assist at parks and natural areas, help with fishing or hunting clinics, participate in habitat projects, give nature programs to children, or contribute to many other conservation-related efforts. An Idaho Master Naturalist can be a teacher, farmer, hunter, angler, birdwatcher, retired professional or homemaker — perhaps you!
To earn the title of Idaho Master Naturalist, an individual completes 40 hours of hands-on training in areas focused on Idaho’s ecology, plants, animals and natural systems taught by experts in their fields. You don’t need to have an education or background in science — just the desire to learn and the enthusiasm to volunteer.
The New High Desert Chapter of the Idaho Master Naturalists is now recruiting new members and will hold its first training on Jan. 24, led by Fish and Game Regional Wildlife Biologist Becky Abel, who will be presenting information on Idaho mammals. The class starts at 6 p.m. at the Southeast Regional Fish and Game Office located at 1345 Barton Road in Pocatello.
This first class is free of charge. Bring a friend, neighbor, co-worker, fellow outdoor-enthusiast or anyone who may be curious about this opportunity to give back in a unique way to our community and the wild world around us. For interested individuals who desire to become certified Idaho Master Naturalists, additional trainings/classes will be offered. The total cost for the certification process is $80 per person to cover supplies and materials. And, later in the year, much of the training will be spent outside in the great outdoors!
In the U.S., there are more than 30 states with Master Naturalists programs.
To date, Idaho has eight Master Naturalist chapters throughout the state, including the High Desert Chapter here in Southeast Idaho. And interest in starting new chapters is growing.
Though Idaho Fish and Game coordinates the state’s Master Naturalist Program, it is not solely a Fish and Game program. It is a program that belongs to the volunteers who drive it and donate their services, to the various partners who provide support, and to the communities who derive benefit from it.
So what does this program mean for Idaho?
The Idaho Master Naturalist program aims to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to actively work toward stewardship of Idaho’s natural environment — something we can all appreciate. Here in Southeast Idaho, Master Naturalists help with monarch butterfly monitoring, conduct wildlife surveys, give informed presentations to area schools, work information booths at environmental fairs, help with Fish and Game’s Trout in the Classroom programs, assist the Department of Environmental Quality and US Forest Service with water sampling and stream assessments, help with projects at the Edson Fichter Nature Area. But the possibilities are endless.
Furthermore, agencies like Idaho Fish and Game benefit from having skilled volunteers like Master Naturalists in the community. Volunteers are not only critical to completing important projects and tasks, their donated hours often serve as match for securing grants and other funding sources. Simply put, volunteerism helps Idaho Fish and Game and other agencies stretch their dollars further and do their jobs better.
If you would like more information on the Idaho Master Naturalists Program, the upcoming training in Pocatello, or if you have a need for these specialized volunteers, contact Tessa Atwood at the Southeast Regional Fish and Game Office in Pocatello at 208-232-4703 or visit the Idaho Master Naturalist webpage at idfg.idaho.gov/master-naturalist.
Jennifer Jackson is the Regional Communications Manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, southeast region.