A certified Naturalist?

Curious to know more about “certified naturalists”, some people who commented on my observations have that distinction. I live in South Bay area and looked up the programs near me, but the UCSC zoom program is full for 2021 & 2022. I took the Seymour Marine Center Docent training last year, loved it. Are there other options, programs or group learning opportunities you can recommend?.

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There are lots of places that will take your money, put you through an introductory course that will make you competent to tell the difference between an albatross and a sparrow or a Sitka spruce and a viburnum and issue you a certificate but the designation Certified Naturalist is just a marketing ploy. If you have done a docent course you probably won’t gain a lot.

Being a naturalist is about being in nature. If you spend some of your time poking about in the weeds and trying to figure out what you’re looking at you’re a naturalist. If you feel that you need to fill in some blanks in your knowledge then joining a naturalist group is a great way to do it. If you have the spare money and would like to try a course, by all means go for it, but you need to go in knowing that for a few hundred bucks you will not become an expert, you will just compress the learning curve a bit when it comes to general knowledge. There are courses in specialized subjects offered in various places. If you have a particular interest maybe check out local community colleges for offerings that will get you some specialized ID tools.

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I’d have to agree with the first response. Usually when I encounter someone who puts it out there that they’re a Certified or Master Naturalist (or similar things like Master Gardener- most “master gardeners” drive me nuts, really), what that really translates to is being overly attached to or confident in a limited set of information they received in a course they paid for, which may include inaccuracies or apply poorly to a broader set of situations. That’s not to say the courses or the people who take them are particularly bad or anything, just perhaps that the financial investment and consequent official-seeming credentials might not always have the most positive impact on further learning. It’s certainly possible that there are lots of people out there who’ve gained a more positive foundation from such a course, but tend not to toot their own horn about having such certifications, but this question has prompted me to realize that I’ve gotten a very negative impression of these courses.

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to be fair, i think a lot of the value of more formal training programs, including even university degrees and certificates, is meeting people who share similar interests and who have interesting connections and skills.

i don’t really partake in these programs myself, but i do engage in various local citizen science and volunteer programs which fill the same role for me, i think, since i tend to be self-study learner anyway. so if a naturalist program is not available, maybe just look around at different organizations that have conservation or citizen science programs and see if they allow you to help out and learn something and meet other people along the way.

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Some states’ Master Naturalist programs are meant to give residents a core set of knowledge to prepare them to volunteer in conservation efforts.

For example, “the Texas Master Naturalist Program’s mission is to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities for the State of Texas. Many communities and organizations rely on such citizen volunteers for implementing youth education programs; for operating parks, nature centers, and natural areas; and for providing leadership in local natural resource conservation efforts. In fact, a short supply of dedicated and well-informed volunteers is often cited as a limiting factor for community-based conservation efforts.” https://txmn.tamu.edu/. To continue to be a Certified MN in Texas you have to volunteer at least 40 hours a year and continue taking training classes each year. (I have no idea what any “certified naturalist” programs are like in your area).

I do agree that doing the TMN training classes will not make someone an expert but it can be a good way to get a general foundation for further learning and volunteering in various conservation efforts.

I echo the other comments about reaching out to local community colleges or local conservation groups (e.g. Audubon society, State Parks, Fish & Wildlife, Botanical Gardens) as they tend to offer many training opportunities (free & paid) and with COVID many of the trainings are now available via webinar so you have access to many more learning opportunities.

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I haven’t taken a course yet, but I’m sure most anyone who interacted with me on iNat would agree I’m certifiable. ;-) Probably goes for most of the most engaged users.

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I joined Texas Master Naturalists a couple years ago. The classes certainly don’t make you an expert in anything. But they give you an introduction to a lot of topics and teach how things are connected. Plus continuing training is required to maintain membership. TMN is largely about volunteering and connecting with other nature lovers. That can either be pulling weeds, planting trees, or it can be presenting on topics you know. Since joining, I have done a presentation on local spiders and insects several times now based entirely on what I learned on my own. I include that I am a TMN member in my iNat profile, but I don’t make a big deal out of it or mention I am certified in anything.

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Although I have degrees and much job experience in biology, I’d like to take some master naturalist training in my area after I retire. Always good to get some new knowledge and experience in topics I may not have been exposed to. I was just chatting this week with someone who got master naturalist certification in my city. I wasn’t even aware we had a program!

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I appreciate a weekly hike with people who can teach me to ID my fynbos on the mountains.

And I spend time on local IDs on iNat. Follow my notifications, and continually learn here.
Asteraceae use the Fibonacci spiral, so 3, or 5 or 8 ray florets (not 4 or 6 or 7)
Not That species, it doesn’t occur on the Cape Peninsula.

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I think this is probably the right attitude to take toward naturalist programs. I don’t think the title ‘certified naturalist’ is really meant to indicate expertise, just a basic familiarity with a wide range of organisms (particularly those in the state or region where the program is offered). It’s probably not worthwhile if you’re looking for something to put on a resume, but if your motivation is to gain that basic familiarity with organisms that aren’t already a specialty area for you, then it can be a fun and valuable experience.

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Welcome to the forum @Goflowers and @naturebugs ! Always lots to learn here. If you have absolutely no ‘Naturalist’ experience, a Naturalist course (although I have never taken one) might help. But I agree with most of the other folks - if you get out and about, you will soon learn what you are drawn to. Read up on that taxon. Get a field guide. Start challenging yourself with ID’s, and ask questions on iNat. My ID skills now are way beyond what they were a few years ago. In this business, practice does make perfect!

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I agree with @jnstuart here. Although I have multiple degrees in ecology, I started my state extension service’s Master Naturalist training (it got interrupted - no field classes last year, so I’m still waiting to finish). I enjoyed filling in bits and pieces that weren’t covered in my professional training (or forgotten over the years). Our state’s program has an emphasis on volunteering and offers instruction in nature pedagogy, i.e. how to engage ordinary people in nature appreciation. Definitely not something for a resume or other forms of bragging, but useful if you want to spread your joy of nature to others. (And yes, it is a way for local colleges and extension programs to enhance their budgets, but they’re mostly underfunded so I’m glad to support them.)

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Here in California, Certified Naturalist programs are organized via the University of California. They have a basic curriculum and rules about who can teach it. I agree with the above commenters that you will learn more by spending time in nature and with knowledgeable naturalists. However, for many people getting started on meeting other naturalists, on knowing how to explore nature, feels daunting or lonely. The Certificate doesn’t mean much, but for some the experience is useful and enjoyable.

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Funny thing is that those folks get a “naturalist” certification while those of us who went to grad school and got a real degree in the subject get a different designation (eg. ecologist, botanist, forester, wildlife management, natural resources management) even if the name of the degree program we went through actually has the term “naturalist” in the title of it.

Not that I mind, it’s just kind of amusing.

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I don’t know how Master Naturalist, Master Gardener, and the like work in the rest of the world, but here in California, the terms are controlled by the University of California system. Master whatevers are used as a force multiplier by the UCs, by acting as docents and advisors. I’m not sure how Master Naturalist works, but to be a Master Gardner, you have to volunteer some number of hours every year and take continuing education. The program is not designed to make one an expert in any field, but to be sure the trainees have a general, science-based knowledge of a specific area and know where to look for UC information when asked a question.

I would imagine becoming a Certified Naturalist would be a waste of time for anyone with a current education in natural sciences, but for someone like me, with degrees in accounting, it would be useful. Many of the posters on this site seem to be really bad at knowing how to identify something. Seems like a brief introduction would be a big improvement. Does anyone know what it costs?

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I want to thank everyone for taking time to provide your perspectives. Since I don’t have any formal training, I’m one of those who may benefit from an organized, systemic basic training. After 2 years, 3000+ observations, I still rely heavily on the AI and other users recommendations. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned a lot, and am deeply appreciative of all the identifiers, just would like to have some interactive learning. And yes, to meet like minded people and continue learning. Thanks again.

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In Texas there is a program co-sponsored by Texas Parks & Wildlife and Texas AgriLife (Texas A&M University). There are about 50 chapters throughout the state. I’m with the Mid-Coast chapter. The initial training is a program specifically developed by each chapter to educate about the ecosystems, plants, animals and habitats, etc in that region. After completing the initial training, students complete 40 hours of volunteer work to become certified. To recertify each year we complete 40 hours of volunteer work and 8 hours of education. My husband & I have been certified since 2007. We put in hundreds of hours and love it. We lead school group field trips to our local wetlands, participate in Christmas Bird Counts, remove abandoned crab traps, monitor nesting oystercatchers, maintain monofilament recycling, maintain kayak trails and many activities which benefit the natural environment. The Texas Master Naturalist program is the original and the concept has spread. https://txmn.tamu.edu/

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Sounds wonderful!

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I’m an aquatic insect ecologist; I teach general biology; evolution; ecology courses. I signed up for a master naturalist program to learn new perspectives and approaches. It had value for sure and I’d recommend similar programs. Will it make me or you a great all round naturalist? Not really…there is always more to learn…but it is a way to learn some new things. and make new contacts.

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Welcome to the Forum @Don - always lots to discuss here!

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