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A natural extension

A new program looks to create a small army of budding naturalists trained in the eco-nuances of the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion, then give the recruits opportunities to make a difference with their new skills.

The Oregon State University Extension Service’s new Master Naturalist program, set to begin here next month, is looking for people who want to learn more about this ecologically diverse area, then team them with entities working on specific field projects of their liking.

The program’s combination of online courses and two long weekends of in-the-field study and training are akin to courses for master gardeners and master food-preservers also offered through the Extension Service.

And like those programs, certification comes with a catch: Master naturalists must complete 40 hours of volunteer work in the first year after completing the course, and then complete another 40 hours a year plus at least eight hours of continuing education to stay certified.

Some of the experts who’ll be training the master naturalists have field projects in need of boots-on-the-ground volunteers, such as herpetology surveys that are part of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s conversation strategies for non-game wildlife.

“It’s building a self-selective audience of people who would be willing to be part of something, even if it’s not a requirement,” said ODFW wildlife biologist Steve Niemela, who is one of the scheduled instructors.

“Hopefully, we’re building a volunteer base to do more conservation strategy work,” Niemela said. “It’s the stuff that would be right up their alley.”

The inaugural course’s syllabus includes a May 17 introduction, with daylong trips and classes May 18-20 on geology, oak habitats and the serpentine ecology of the Illinois Valley.

The next round of daily class trips runs June 8-10 and focuses on watershed and riverine processes and mountain and sub-alpine ecosystems before closing with an exploration of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument south and east of Ashland.

The online course costs $325 and the eco-region courses cost $250, with some scholarships available.

Courses will be taught by naturalists, members of nonprofit organizations and even governmental agency representatives like Niemela.

Each will include presentations by groups or agencies who are or will be recruiting volunteers for current or future projects, said Rachel Werling, the Extension Service’s Land Steward Program coordinator here and the coordinator of this new program.

“We want to strongly pitch those connections every day and pitch for the need for volunteers,” Werling said.

For more information and registration, visit http://oregonmasternaturalist.org/Ecoregion_courses

The program, which is offered in five other Oregon ecoregions, has been on Werling’s plate for the past three years as an extension of her land steward program. But she could never find donated seed money to get the program going, Werling said.

This year the program received a $10,000 grant from the Bob and Phyllis Mace Watchable Wildlife Fund through the Oregon Community Foundation.

Bob Mace was the former ODFW biologist who coined the term “Watchable Wildlife” to replace nongame wildlife as the moniker for wildlife species not hunted or fished.

The fund is generated from gravel mining on some former Mace property off Kirkland Road that eventually will serve as an ODFW-managed public state park, said Russ Stauff, a former ODFW Rogue Watershed manager who serves on the foundation’s board.

Werling said she hopes to seek less grant money next year and hopes the program soon becomes self-sustainable.

Other partners in the inaugural field courses include the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy and the Rogue River Watershed Council.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.