MISSION – The Rio Grande Valley’s chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists is now taking applications for those wanting to learn more about the unique ecosystems found in the natural areas of South Texas, according to organizers.
Tony Reisinger, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for coastal and marine resources in Cameron County and a Texas Master Naturalist advisor, said weekly evening classes will be offered in 2015 at two locations, one in San Benito and another in Mission.
“Folks who want to sign up for these classes that explore the Valley’s amazing natural wildlife areas can attend at either location,” he said. “We’ve lined up a fascinating agenda of field trips and classes taught by experts, authors, photographers and other local professionals.”
Classes in the lower Rio Grande Valley will meet from 6-9 p.m. each Wednesday, Jan. 21 through March 25, at the Cameron County Annex Building, 1390 W. Expressway 83 in San Benito.
Upper valley classes will meet Tuesday evenings, Jan. 21-March 25, at Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park, 2800 S. Bentsen Palm Drive in Mission.
Orientation for both classes will be held from 6-9 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Biblioteca las Americas, Mile 3 West and Expressway 83 in Mercedes.
Registration is $150 and includes a textbook, fees and a one-year membership. Limited scholarships are available, and background checks are required, Reisinger said. The deadline to sign up for the classes is Dec. 31, and classes are limited to 25 students per location.
Alicia Cavazos, Texas Master Naturalist Rio Grande Valley chapter president, said the local chapter is now in its 12th year, dedicated to the study and conservation of natural areas.
“Class participants learn more than the peculiarities of the unique ecosystem here,” she said. “They learn about the Gulf of Mexico, the coast, birds, butterflies, reptiles, mammals, geology, weather — myriad elements native to the Lower Rio Grande Valley — and how to keep the Valley native.”
The Valley Texas Master Naturalist program is an educational effort of AgriLife Extension, Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas Sea Grant, which has chapters throughout the state, she said. Training is region-specific and taught by AgriLife professors, field experts from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, noted nature authors, professional photographers and others.
“Graduates will be certified at the end of the training and will have the opportunity to become involved in charitable, scientific and educational outreach within the Rio Grande Valley,” Cavazos said.
Master naturalist Marisa Oliva-Rodriguez said the main qualifications needed to become a certified Texas Master Naturalist are an interest in learning and the desire to play an active role in conservation.
“Participants will receive a minimum of 40 hours of training from local experts, professors and field staff,” she said. “Topics include interpretation and management of natural resources, ecological concepts, eco-regions in Texas and natural systems management.”
After graduation, they are asked to volunteer 40 hours of service per year in a community education, demonstration and habitat enhancement project in order to maintain certification, she said.
“They are also expected to pursue a minimum of eight hours of advanced training in areas of personal interest, but we find that many volunteers go above and beyond basic requirements,” she said.
The lineup of Saturday field trips in 2015 include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather station in Brownsville, private local ranches, the University of Texas-Pan American Coastal Studies Lab on South Padre Island, as well as various wildlife centers including Resaca de la Palma State Park, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Valley Nature Center and the Sabal Palm Sanctuary.
For more information on the classes in San Benito, email Carolyn Cardile at email@example.com or Cavazos at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on the Mission classes, contact Tom Butler at email@example.com or Oliva-Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org .
For more information or to register online, go to http://rgvctmn.org/.