Master Naturalist Programs Across the US

Where Can You Learn to Be a Master Naturalist?

States with Master Naturalist Programs and Classes

After a successful nature walk, talk, or program I'm often asked about where I received my education, what it takes to be a naturalist or nature educator, and where to get trained. I came to being a naturalist through an indirect route of loving nature and studying it on my own very early on, we're talking playground days. I started out in college studying Environmental Science and later picked up a Masters in Biology. However, along the way most of my naturalist skills have been through trial and error. These include reading books, using field guides, looking up neat things that I found on hikes, birding, looking for reptiles etc. If this all interests you then I'd suggest that you take some naturalist classes.

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Frog tadpole found on citizen science collection trip (Photo: Karen McDonald)

There are three types of naturalists:

1. You're just a casual observer that is interested in nature, you like nature, occasionally look up a bird or two and you're happy with that. You also get outside but the overwhelming abundance of plants, animals, etc. baffles and amazes you at times.

2. You love nature, getting outside, and learning all about what you see. You have many field guides that you use, you occasionally attend nature programs and talks, and you thirst for more knowledge of the natural world.

3. You're a science or nature educator that is kept on their toes by having to learn and teach about nature, which means keeping one step ahead of your next science program. You also have a passion for science and nature and are always ready to learn more.

Regardless of which category you fall on this spectrum, there are many ways to "up" your game as a naturalist. One of the easiest ways is to just start teaching yourself using books, apps, and online resources. The next easiest way is to attend short classes, one or two hour walks or talks at a local science/nature education center. The most efficient way to become a naturalist is immersion, on your own or through classes. One form of immersion is something called the Master Naturalist Program. These programs are geared towards adults, but there are some for kids too.

What is A Master Naturalist?

There are many different variations of the "Master Naturalist" courses offered by different state, wildlife, and park organizations. Most include a series of classes designed to provide some form of certification. This certification says that you have mastered a variety of skills relating to nature and specifically the flora and fauna of a given region.

For example, a typical master naturalist class may include a series of one hour classes, or weekend all day classes, on ecosystems, watersheds, plant identification, bird identification, reptile and amphibian identification, aquatic invertebrates, soils, geology, or stars. The goal of these classes would be to give you a rudimentary working knowledge of these topics so that you could either use these skills personally or volunteer with outdoor or education organizations. Check out the Virginia Master Naturalist check list of things they cover in their classes.

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Dragonfly caught during pond survey (Photo: Karen McDonald)

Some Master Naturalist programs require a certain number of community hours devoted to using the skills you learn in their classes (much like Master Gardeners). This could be anything, ranging from volunteering with a wetland restoration or teaching outdoor education classes.

How Much Do Master Naturalist Classes Cost?

The cost depends on the state and institution. Some classes are subsidized by grants or colleges and universities. The block of classes may range from $250-500 dollars. There may also be extra costs associated with the class for books, binoculars, or other supplies. Each organization lists their prices on their websites.

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Milkweed moth (Photo: Karen McDonald)

What States Offer Master Naturalist Programs?

This is by no means a complete list. To see a complete listing visit the Wildlife Gardeners website. During cold weather it's a great time to start planning for Spring and the classes you might get involved in.