Celebrating a decade of Virginia Master Naturalists

A master naturalist identifies a tree from its leaves.

Virginia Master Naturalists learn tree identification as well as many other skills in their basic training that they apply to service projects to benefit Virginia’s natural resources.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Master Naturalist program. In the decade since the national program started in the commonwealth, the organization has trained several thousand Master Naturalists, who have contributed 526,583 hours of volunteer service — the equivalent of well over 250 years of full-time employment. Its initial 10 chapters have grown to 30, with each making a significant positive impact on Virginia’s natural resources.

Virginia Master Naturalist volunteers provide education, outreach, and service to support Virginia’s natural resources and public lands. Their time is calculated to be worth nearly $12.4 million to date.

“About 3,500 Master Naturalists have been trained since the program began in Virginia,” said Program Coordinator Alycia Crall. “Many of them are still active volunteers, donating at least 40 hours of work each year.”

Master Naturalists have contributed to more than 70 scientific studies, which have advanced knowledge about Virginia’s natural resources. Their study subjects range from frogs to American chestnuts to spring beauty flowers to osprey. The volunteers have also cared for more than 2,500 acres of public lands by removing non-native species, maintaining trails, and planting native flowers.

The Virginia Master Naturalist program is open to anyone who wants to learn more about nature. Participants start out by completing 40 hours of training offered through a local chapter; an additional eight hours of advanced training are required each year. The volunteers learn basic ecology and scientific principles as well as ornithology, geology, botany, and zoology.

“I like marking the seasons by seeing what’s happening out there,” said Brenda Graff, a Master Naturalist in Christiansburg. “I especially like collecting data that can help the environment.”

The Virginia Master Naturalist program is jointly sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia departments of Conservation and Recreation, Environmental Quality, Forestry, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Center for Coastal Resources Management, and Game and Inland Fisheries, as well as the Virginia Museum of Natural History. The program is based in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.

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