For those with a hankering to learn more about the great outdoors and garner the title of Certified Wyoming Master Naturalist, that opportunity has arrived. Many states have a Master Naturalist Program that trains participants to be environmental stewards and, most importantly, how to teach stewardship to others. Until now, Wyoming was one of the states lacking such an opportunity.

Jacelyn Downey, Audubon Rockies’ education program manager, said such a program is coming to Wyoming. Registration is open now and runs to the end of January. With only 22 spaces available, entry is filling fast for this inaugural class, but those who don’t get in this year can reapply in subsequent years. The plan is to provide an annual training class to bring in new people each year.

“Wyoming is an amazing state with cool projects in need of volunteers,” Downey said. “Becoming a Wyoming Master Naturalist provides an opportunity to assist with research projects or pass on knowledge via outdoor classrooms. Each person picks the volunteer opportunity that appeals to them.”

The Wyoming Naturalist Program is being offered through coordination of state agency and non-profit organizations that include Audubon Rockies, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming State Parks, the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute, University of Wyoming Extension and Serve Wyoming.

The opportunity is open to anyone over the age of 17. No previous education or experience is needed – just a desire to learn more about the outdoors in an array of topics. The course graduates must then turn around to volunteer and become actively involved in research projects, outdoor education, or otherwise offering their expertise to further the goal of land stewardship.

Downey said the program is especially appealing to retired environmental professionals, but attracting interested individuals regardless of their outdoor background is really the goal.

“We would like anybody with an interest,” Downey said. “Even if they’ve never done anything like this before.”

To become a certified Wyoming Naturalist, the first step after signing up and getting in to the program, is to complete the required basic training. Cost for the training is $175, although scholarships are available.

Training occurs once a year and, for 2021, runs from Feb. through May. Online classes meet every Wednesday evening. Downey explains that on one week instructors present two different topics over a two hour period; the following week the group spends an hour discussing what they did – homework if you will – on those topics.

Topics touch on a wide array of outdoor subjects including botany, forestry, entomology, geology, herpetology, mammals, birds, and natural diversity. Instructors come from the UW Extension, the UW Biodiversity Institute, UW Dept. of Zoology and Physiology, Wyoming State Forestry, and the Tate Museum at Casper College. The course is capped off with a two day get together – following Covid safety guidelines – at Boysen State Park.

Once completed, each graduate must perform a minimum of 40 hours of volunteer service annually. The service runs the gamut from helping UW graduate students with research projects, taking part in UW Biodiversity Institute projects, and also providing expertise to schools for outdoor education.

The Wyoming Master Naturalist program is teaming with Service Wyoming to act as an interface between schools and research projects in need of volunteers and the volunteers.

“In Wyoming we have so many cool projects,” Downey said. “This is a great opportunity for people to obtain the expertise, and then use it to help out with projects around the state.”

For more information about the program, go to the website at the UW Biodiversity Institute: wyomingnaturalists.wyobiodiveristy.org.

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