New program helps people become master naturalists in Saskatchewan

While out hiking you might have spotted a flower or a bird and wished you could identify it. Now there's a new course that can help.

Classes will start in May for those wild about Saskatchewan nature

Once certified as a Saskatchewan master naturalist, volunteers will be trained to help survey wild plants and animals. (Submitted by Chet Neufeld)

While out hiking you might have spotted a flower or a bird and wished you could identify it. Now there's a new course that can help.

The Saskatchewan Master Naturalist program will launch during the NatureCity Festival in Saskatoon at the end of May 2016.

Chet Neufeld, the executive director of the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan, created the program because there was a lack of skilled volunteers to carry out projects for his non-for profit.

"The problem I was finding was that while we have people willing to do the work, sometimes they were lacking in specific knowledge that would help the project," said Neufeld.

"It was this nagging problem. We had a lot of people but by the time we had trained them the need for them passed."

Chet Neufeld says many volunteers can help dig invasive plants but without proper training they cannot map a wetland with a GPS. (Submitted by Chet Neufeld)

He wanted a group of volunteers that could be trained and ready to carry out tasks for the organization.

Neufeld contacted other non-profits and found they had the same issue. After doing a bit of research, he discovered that many places in the United States and Canada had created master naturalist programs.

"They train people who want to learn and want to become more informed and skilled volunteers," said Neufeld.

After receiving funding from Environment Canada and the City of Saskatoon, Neufeld designed a master naturalist program for Saskatchewan.

In late May, nature lovers can take courses on ecology engagement, citizen science, urban ecosystems, aquatic ecosystems, aboriginal traditional knowledge and archaeology. Later, prairie ecosystems and forest ecosystems will be added to program.

It will combine classroom learning with nature outings where students can put their knowledge to the test.

"It's like a condensed version of a university course, but not as daunting," said Neufeld.

"These modules will be a day long and not a yearlong.... We don't want to make this work, we want to make this fun."

Once completing the classes, participants will become certified and would be required to volunteer with provincial organizations to maintain their status as a Saskatchewan master naturalist.

The cost of the program would be refunded for people through volunteer hours.

"The program's great. These organizations get the volunteers they need and the volunteers get this knowledge," said Neufeld.

"Organizations are relying on average citizens to collect information because they just don't have the capacity sometimes."

Many nature organizations rely on the average citizen to collect data. (Submitted by Chet Neufeld)

Neufeld says certified Saskatchewan master naturalists will be sought after by nature organizations across the province.

People will be able to participate in surveys for wild plants and animals, restoration work in conservation areas, and mapping out habitats.

"There's just so many opportunities that are available to people and the best thing is they will be visiting some of the nicest places in the entire province while they are doing this," said Neufeld.

"In some cases they get access to areas they normally wouldn't get access to."

Neufeld hopes the program benefits conservation projects in Saskatchewan.


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