Celebrating the 100th California Naturalist class
How did we get here and where shall we venture together?
This spring, the 100th California Naturalist class is being offered in Sonoma County – the very same county where we first piloted the curriculum. The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources California Naturalist Program is designed to introduce Californians to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage the public in study and stewardship of California's natural communities. The program mission is to foster a diverse community of naturalists and promote stewardship of California's natural resources through education and service. California Naturalist certification courses combine classroom and field experience in science, problem-solving, communication training and community service. Students are taught by an instructor and team of experts who are affiliated with the University of California, local nature-based centers, community colleges, land trusts, or natural resource focused agencies such as California State Parks and cooperating “friends groups.”
What inspired the first California Naturalist class? Georgia, Florida, Texas and 22 other states have Master Naturalist-like programs, so why not California? After all, California is a global biodiversity hotspot filled with nature enthusiasts. It took a volunteer, Julia Fetherston, to get excited about the potential for a California program before our director Adina Merenlender was convinced to attend the 2005 National Master Naturalist Annual Conference in Estes Park, Colo. She was impressed with the impact these programs were having and decided to see what we could do in the Golden State. A good deal of effort followed to advance the cause within UC, secure grant funding, write the California Naturalist Handbook, develop ways to work with organizations across the state, and build a team to run California Naturalist. In 2012, we officially launched the program with five intrepid institutional partners (Santa Rosa Junior College/Pepperwood Foundation, Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station, and Santa Barbara Botanical Garden). Four years later California Naturalist received Program of the Year from the national network, the Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs.
The 100th California Naturalist class is being offered at Stewards of the Coast and Redwood this spring. Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods is a non-profit, environmental and interpretive organization that works in partnership with California State Parks in the Russian River Sector of the Sonoma Mendocino Coast District to support volunteer, education and stewardship programs. Participants in this year's spring class have worked hard on a wide range of capstone projects, including multiple wildlife monitoring citizen science projects, improving fish habitat in the watershed, and creating educational materials on ticks, wetland birds, water quality and more. Co-instructors Meghan Walla-Murphy and David Berman have been teaching California Naturalist courses since 2013, first with Occidental Arts and Ecology Center and now with Stewards. Meghan is the author of Fishing on the Russian River and a well-respected wildlife tracker whose workshops are not to be missed. David is an extraordinary environmental educator, watershed expert, and Project Wild facilitator with the Sonoma County Water Agency.
Now that we have 100 classes under our belt, oh, the places we can go! California Naturalist is a community of practice started deliberately with the goal of gaining natural history knowledge. We are working on releasing a citizen science challenge to provide an opportunity for California Naturalists to discover more about California's ecosystems - Discovery!
Surveys show that California Naturalists feel more empowered to address environmental challenges after their training and knowing they can lean on their fellow naturalists. We would like to know more about how California Naturalists are participating in civic engagement. With a new volunteer management system on the horizon, we plan to learn more about the many ways Naturalists are becoming involved in issues that affect their communities. - Action!
In particular, what activities are Naturalists doing that will help communities and natural ecosystems be more resilient to climate change – improving habitat connectivity, restoring riparian areas, or pre/post fire management? We are looking for support to start an advanced training aimed at helping today's climate stewards learn more about climate science and adaptation to support their efforts on climate-wise - Stewardship!
Congratulations to the graduates of the 100th California Naturalist class and all those who went before you.