A local program allows natives and those new to the valley to learn about their desert environment.
The Nevada Naturalist Program is part of the national Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs, which focuses on educating and training adults interested in learning about the natural resources in Southern Nevada.
Through a variety of classes, projects and volunteer opportunities, people are trained to become stewards of their natural environment and to teach skills to others.
“We have a need for this type of program because so many people are transplants here and don’t really understand the desert climate as a whole, especially the Mojave Desert,” said M.L. Robinson, associate professor and water and environmental horticulture specialist. “It’s essential that people understand the desert and the roles it plays in the environment and in our lives.”
Participants are offered the opportunity to study natural resources, environmental education and interpretation, laws and regulations and environmental issues.
Denise Parsons, Nevada Naturalist Program coordinator, was hired in 2008 to start the program at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
She seeks experts to teach portions of the class, which include ecology, regional plants and animals, invasive species, geology and soils, environmental laws, taxonomy and biological diversity.
“A lot of the teachers come from areas of formal education,” Parsons said. “Many are locally well-known in their field and respected. They’re the bread and butter of the program.”
She added that people have used the program to network with various agencies, and some have found environmental jobs or volunteer opportunities through it.
Along with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, participating partners include the Henderson Bird Preserve, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, the Nevada State Museum, the Las Vegas Museum of Natural History, the Clark County Wetlands Park, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
“The program will give participants the skills and confidence necessary to make a difference for environmental stewardship and conservation in Southern Nevada,” Parsons said.
Robinson said the program gives a broad understanding of nature to those who are interested in learning, volunteering, teaching and participating in conservation projects and issues.
“We usually teach a different topic each class, and a lot of the instruction is hands-on,” Parsons said.
Field trips are scheduled on Saturdays at various times and locations. The cost is $195 per semester, which includes all program materials, refreshments and some field trips.
This year’s field trips are set to include a trip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and the Nevada State Museum.
Additionally, students must complete a project intended to increase their capacity and knowledge about specific issues that interest them. Participants receive a certificate following the completion of the course and their projects.
Past projects have included hikes, PowerPoint presentations and games, according to Parsons.
Students must also contribute 20 hours of their time to volunteering and have the option of volunteering an additional 20 hours to become certified as a Nevada Volunteer Wildlife Steward.
After the completion of session one, students are given the opportunity to complete an optional second session including topics such as archaeology, cultural history, paleontology, conservation biology, habitat management, eco-tourism and water harvesting.
Session two is normally offered in the fall, but it is canceled this year due to the Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs national conference scheduled for Sept. 15-18 and the Nevada Naturalist state conference scheduled for Sept. 18-20 at Clark County Wetlands Park.
The spring semester is set to begin from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays April 7 to June 7.
The program is open to everyone, but there is a wait list.
The next Nevada Naturalist Program is scheduled in spring 2015.
“Anyone who is interested in the natural environment of Nevada and would like to help preserve it can benefit from this program,” Robinson said. “It’s always on an evolutionary progress, which makes it kind of exciting.”
For more information on this program or to register, contact Parsons at 702-948-5906 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact North Las Vegas and Centennial View reporter Sandy Lopez at email@example.com or 702-383-4686.