CALDWELL, Ohio — Education, appreciation, conservation — such are the ideals Ohio State University Extension Educators hope Ohioans will gain for nature under a proposed statewide OSU Extension Master Naturalist Program.
The program, in its early stages of development, is designed similarly to OSU Extension's Master Gardener Program. Interested individuals are educated and trained in areas involving environmental issues, state parks, wildlife and other natural science areas, and then volunteer their time in the community to teach others the value of Ohio's natural resources.
"Ohioans are very interested in the natural world, but there is little integration of those people, and currently there is no statewide scientifically based, un-biased educational program about the natural world that people can apply to improve their natural environment," said J.P. Lieser, an OSU Extension Educator in watershed management for Noble County. "This program is designed to allow individuals who desire for knowledge and desire to volunteer the opportunity to share what they've learned with others. It's not an advocacy type of situation."
The Ohio Master Naturalist Program is a spin-off of similar programs in other states that have seen success since their inception. For example, from 1998 through 2003 The Texas Master Naturalist program trained over 1,650 volunteers, who dedicated 66,000 service hours per year to projects. These projects impacted over 341,000 people and 29,000 acres of habitat. By 2003, over 244 partnerships were formed. During this period, the efforts of these volunteers extended the budgets of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Cooperative Extension by $2.7 million.
Other states such as Florida, Oklahoma, Iowa and Colorado have seen similar successes with such a program.
"We are hoping to partner within Ohio State University and with several state organizations, such as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, state and local parks, and scientific experts for the Ohio Master Naturalist Program," said Lieser. "We see this as a way of bringing together a lot of people who have a passion and interest in conserving and enhancing the natural environment throughout the state."
Committee members are in the process of developing a plan outlining the program and producing a statewide training manual outlining curricula in several natural resource areas. For more information regarding the Ohio Master Naturalist Program, contact Lieser at (740) 732-2381 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dave Goerig in Mahoning County at (330) 533-5538 or email@example.com.