Texas Master Naturalist program celebrates 25th anniversary

AUSTIN Over the last 25 years, more than 15,300 Texas Master Naturalist volunteers have made their mark by dedicating their time to helping protect and conserve the state’s natural resources.

Their impact spans across more than 256,000 acres of Texas’ landscapes from the lush tidal marshes of the Gulf Coast to the arid vistas of the Trans Pecos.

Established in 1998 as a partnership between the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the Texas Master Naturalist program is the first naturalist program of its kind in the nation to be implemented on a statewide scale. It has served as the model for other states seeking to harness the power of volunteers for the benefit of their wild things and wild places.

“We really pulled together the strengths of both agencies to create this program,” Michelle Haggerty, TPWD’s Texas Master Naturalist state coordinator, said in a news release.

The program has developed of a corps of well-informed volunteers who provide education, outreach and service dedicated to the beneficial management of Texas’ natural resources and natural areas within their local communities. The program comprises 49 chapters serving 213 counties across the state.

“On average, we have 6,000 active Master Naturalists contributing volunteer hours each year,” Mary Pearl Meuth, Texas Master Naturalist assistant state coordinator with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, said in the release. “Our volunteers help state agencies accomplish goals on a large scale.”

In 2022, Texas Master Naturalists logged more than 515,000 volunteer hours, completing projects such as collecting research data, tagging monarch butterflies, leading guided hikes, developing educational curriculums, providing small-acreage land management consultations and more.

To obtain the skills and knowledge needed to tackle these diverse projects, Master Naturalist trainees must successfully complete an approved training program through a Texas Master Naturalist chapter using the state-approved curriculum. This includes at least 40 hours of combined field and classroom instruction.

Chapters hold training sessions during the spring or fall of each year, and no existing ecological knowledge or outdoor experience is required to get involved.

“You don’t need existing natural resource knowledge to become a Master Naturalist,” Haggerty said. “All you need is the interest to get started.”

To date, the Texas Master Naturalist program has reached more than 6 million people through educational programming, constructed more than 3,000 miles of trails and clocked 6.787 million service hours with an economic impact totaling over $215 million.

The program has received more than 40 state and national awards, including:

  • The Bright Idea in Government Award from Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.
  • The Governor’s Volunteer Award in Community Leadership from the OneStar Foundation.
  • The Keep Texas Beautiful Organizational Award.
  • The Civic and Community Environmental Excellence award from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

For a more in-depth look at the Texas Master Naturalist program look at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s recent article celebrating the anniversary. For more information about the program, go to TPWD’s or AgriLife’s Master Naturalist pages.