By Becky Sapper, University of Wisconsin Extension


Do you enjoy Wisconsin’s vast natural resources? Do you get energized by being outside? Are you a life-long learner, who wonders about nature? Do you like to make a difference? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you have something in common with Wisconsin’s 400 certified Master Naturalist Volunteers! Or, perhaps, you are already one of them.

Volunteers have passion, interest and dedication and they enjoy sharing their valuable skills. They are self-motivated and choose to participate for a variety of reasons.

Master Naturalist Geology credit Emily Stone

Different soil types are explored during the geology portion of the Master Naturalist training course in Cable, Wisconsin. Photo credit Emily Stone

“The goals of the Wisconsin Master Naturalist program match my own—preparing and enlisting the help of enthusiastic and trained volunteers for conservation in our communities,” says Master Naturalist Volunteer and Instructor Beth Setenfield. “The needs are great and budgets are limited. These well-informed citizens are needed now more than ever.”

Organizations across the state rely on these individuals to help with natural resources efforts. I am very fortunate to interact with many volunteers as part of my role with the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program.


What is the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program?

The Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program is a network of well-informed citizens dedicated to conservation education and service within communities across Wisconsin. They participate in a 40-hour Master Naturalist Volunteer Training Course, which combines field experiences and hands on activities with coursework covering eight topic areas: geology, ecology, plants, wildlife, water, aquatic life, interpretation and human influences.

Master Naturalist Volunteer Training courses are taught by professional natural resources educators and scientists, and are held at university and college campuses, environmental education centers, nature centers and museums across the state.

Master Naturalists 2015

During the 2015 Master Naturalist Volunteer training course participants learned about glacial history at this esker located near Cable, Wisconsin. Photo credit Emily Stone

The Cable Natural History Museum is one of the many partners offering Master Naturalist Volunteer Training.

“We’re excited to offer such a well-rounded and well-respected opportunity to our members and visitors. With the state-wide marketing of courses, we benefit from greater exposure and new people discovering our museum and everything we have to offer,” explains their staff naturalist, Emily Stone.

New courses are continually added, so keep an eye on the website for listings.

Once trained, Master Naturalist Volunteers provide a minimum of 40 hours of service and take eight hours of additional training annually to receive their Wisconsin Master Naturalist service pin. Volunteers recorded an impressive total of 17,300 service hours from 2013 to 2015, a value of more than $385,000 provided in our state.


What does a Master Naturalist Volunteer actually do?

Master Naturalist Volunteer service activities always relate to Wisconsin’s natural or environmental cultural history, are sponsored by an organization, occur in Wisconsin and are unpaid. Volunteer service is given in three categories: Education/Interpretation, Citizen Science and Stewardship. As citizen scientists, Master Naturalist Volunteers help to gather information to track and monitor many different species. In 2015, they helped survey bats, loons, salamanders, pollinators, deer, wolves, dragonflies, invasive species, rare plants, songbirds and more.

clay colored sparrow credit Emily Stone

This clay colored sparrow was caught in mist nets on a US Forest Service property study site for the second year in a row during Master Naturalist training. Photo credit Emily Stone

While some volunteers monitor our natural world, others serve in education and interpretation roles for audiences with a wide range of ages and interests.  In addition, Master Naturalist Volunteers assist with managing lands in stewardship roles—maintaining trails and preserves and removing invasive species.

“By far our biggest benefit has been the network of knowledgeable, energetic volunteers we’ve recruited,” says Stone. “They add new interest to our program calendar, without much extra staff time. One volunteer custom painted and installed a Little Free Library on our site. Another led a cranberry treasure hunt complete with baked goods. With their enthusiasm, Master Naturalist Volunteers are excellent ambassadors for both our site and the program no matter where they go. Plus, they are fun to hang out with!”

John Kudlas, Master Naturalist Volunteer, providing instruction as part of a Critter Catching Program for youth through the Cable Natural History Museum. Photo credit Emily Stone

“I am honored to be a part of the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program,” says Deborah Proctor, “promoting learning about and preserving Wisconsin’s valuable outdoor resources and opportunities to enjoy what our state has to offer.”


Learn more!

Would you like to be a Wisconsin Master Naturalist Volunteer or Instructor? Wisconsin could use your help. Please check out our website and Facebook page or contact us for more information. We look forward to hearing from you!

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