OK Master Naturalist
Oklahoma Master Naturalists live all across our state. Their mission is broad, but can be summarized as: "To promote a better understanding of environmental stewardship."
Incoming OMN President, Gail Brooks, explained that the organization began as a volunteer training program to emphasize natural resource education and community service. Many members are Master Gardeners, as both programs are sponsored by Oklahoma State University’s extension program. A Master Gardener since 2002, Brooks has been involved with OMN since 2005.
“We emphasize nature—plants, birds, butterflies—anything to do with the natural world,” Brooks explained. “We’re broader than the Master Gardener program.”
OMN, which has been in existence for two years, currently has two chapters within the state. The Central Chapter serves Edmond and the Oklahoma City metro area. The Northeast Chapter, based in Tulsa, serves the northeast part of Oklahoma.
“We hope to have chapters in all corners of the state within the coming years,” said Donna Mackiewicz, OMN’s Volunteer Coordinator.
A Girl Scout for thirty years, Mackiewicz has been involved with OMN for one year and said the two groups share a connection.
“It’s easy to live the part of the Girl Scout Law—use resources wisely—with all the naturalist training I’ve received,” she said. “I love nature and I’d like to show others how to appreciate the treasures we’ve been given and how to take care of the earth.”
Volunteers hoping to join OMN take a basic training course of classroom sessions before becoming part of a chapter. The next session is set for spring, 2007. Brooks explained that the knowledge gained through training could be used in a participant’s local community or school district as well.
“We are actively seeking volunteers and are very open to new members,” she said.
Brooks said OMN currently has about eighty-five members statewide. Meetings are held once each month—on the second Wednesday—but locations sometimes vary. She explained that members take tours and listen to speakers who are experts in their fields.
“We expose them to unique people, places and experiences,” Brooks said.
Ray Ridlen, OSU extension educator in horticulture and agriculture, said OMN members are involved because they really enjoy certain aspects of nature. He said the organization is also community service oriented.
As an advisor for the Central Chapter, he mentioned the importance of partnering with other agencies as well as local schools. More participants help OMN to multiply its efforts and do more for the environment.
“We want to motivate people to manage and use resources wisely,” Brooks said.
OMN recently won first place for Non-profit Award for Environmental Improvement for several of their projects this past year in the "Keep Oklahoma Beautiful 2006," statewide environmental excellence competition.
To win the award, OMN submitted information about several projects with which they were involved in the Edmond area. One of those ventures was a recycling program called The Great American Clean-up.
“We are here to serve the community and share our knowledge and resources,” Mackiewicz said. “To be recognized is so wonderful; we are all volunteers and feel blessed to be considered a valuable asset to the state.”
OMN has several projects underway. Brooks said they have partnered with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife to help develop 720 acres south of Lake Arcadia. The land is on a ninety-nine year lease with the Army Corps of Engineers. Project development should take about three years. At that point, the site will be used for environmental education purposes.
“We are in the very early stages,” Brooks said, adding that preliminary testing to see what types of wildlife live in the area is just getting started.
Projects aimed at educating children include designing formats for outdoor classrooms for use by schools and conducting natural resource days.
“We feel people have lost touch with nature—especially children,” Brooks said.
“This past year ages participating in our presentations and programs ranged from four-year olds learning to look at birds through binoculars to elderly retired persons learning about recycling,” Mackiewicz added.
Another project is being conducted in conjunction with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Brooks said OMN monitors wetlands created on private land by agreement between individuals and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The wetlands are to remain wildlife habitats for an agreed number of years.
“This volunteer program is the first of its kind,” Brooks said. “If it works, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take it nationwide to other Master Naturalist programs.”
Also, because OMN is a non-profit organization, the type of project and the partnership that has been established determines funding for the various projects. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helps fund projects like the one previously mentioned. Other projects are often self-funded.
For more information on volunteering with the Oklahoma Master Naturalists, visit www.okmasternaturalist.org or call the OSU Extension Center at (405) 713-1125.