Nebraska Master Naturalists work to conserve natural resources

Nebraska Master Naturalists work to conserve natural resources

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Nebraska Master Naturalist volunteers restore habitat, teach kids to fish, provide environmental education at nature centers, serve as citizen scientists and engage in myriad other projects designed to conserve Nebraska's unique natural resources.

Since its beginning in 2010, the Nebraska Master Naturalist program has trained nearly 400 adults statewide. Their backgrounds vary widely — "everything from big game hunters to tree huggers" — but they share a desire to explore Nebraska's natural areas, contribute their time and expertise, and connect with fellow Nebraskans to promote, educate and conserve the state's natural environment, said Matt Jones, program coordinator.

Master Naturalists have contributed more than 57,000 volunteer hours valued at $1.3 million from 2010 through 2017.

"A lot of their willingness to donate their time and their dedication to the program and the state is ongoing," Jones said.

trainers in a wet field with nets
Training in the Nebraska Master Naturalists program includes hands-on field experiences

The cost of training ranges from $150 to $350. Natural resources experts lead indoor presentations and hands-on field experiences. This training encompasses a variety of natural science disciplines, including grasslands, woodlands, wetlands and aquatic ecosystems.

Upon completion of the training and 20 hours of volunteer work, individuals become certified Master Naturalists. They must continue to volunteer and complete eight hours of continuing education annually to maintain their certification. Volunteer opportunities are vast and tailored to individual interests.

The Nebraska Master Naturalist program is part of the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. It is supported by the university, the Nebraska Environmental Trust, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and 30 other natural resource agencies.

Fieldwork fun for master naturalist

Not everyone would enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors locating plains pocket mice, but Mike Schrad does. He likes it a lot.

Plains pocket mice are common in the Sandhills, and he is trying to find populations of them in other parts of the state.

Schrad is a Nebraska Master Naturalist whose volunteer work focuses on small mammals. The plains pocket mouse is, he said, one of the small mammals that needs more research.

A retired wildlife ecologist and environmental manager, Schrad lives on an acreage near Omaha. As a citizen scientist, he enjoys spending time in nature doing work that benefits the study and conservation of Nebraska's natural resources.

"I have fun," Schrad said.