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Give the gift of nature, with a Master Naturalist class

For the outdoor adventurer, naturalist, environmental enthusiast, or educator, a Florida Master Naturalist class is the gift that keeps on giving. Each class, whether taken in Sarasota County or any location throughout Florida, is a one-of-a-kind experience of Florida’s unique natural environments… and may even change your life in ways you couldn’t imagine.

Florida Master Naturalist students assess water quality by identifying biological indicators from water samples collected at Oscar Scherer State Park’s Big Lake, during a “habitat evaluation” class.

Each of the three Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) core modules is 40 hours long (usually taught over a number of weeks) and focuses on one of the important ecosystems in our state: uplands, freshwater, and coastal. Core modules include lecture-style learning, group activities, and fascinating “behind-the-scenes” field trips to parks and preserves throughout the area.

There are also a number of skills-based classes that include 24 hours of training on topics like environmental interpretation and wildlife monitoring. Each of these classes includes field trips to conservation lands with hands-on activities and skills practice, perfect for the volunteer naturalist, citizen scientist, or anyone who is interested. The new restoration series includes classes that provide unique opportunities to learn about and participate in restoration efforts in these natural environments.

Thank you to Jim Strickland, owner of Blackbeard’s Ranch (seen here with FMNP instructor Dr. Katherine Clements), and all our partners who make these classes so unforgettable!

In a recent habitat evaluation class in Sarasota County, students took a site visit to Blackbeard’s Ranch where they heard from ranch owner Jim Strickland and biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) about the importance of conservation easements and other land protection opportunities that preserve the future of wildlife habitat and water quality in our state.

Students then practiced skills to assess habitat quality for wildlife with FMNP instructors Katherine Clements and Abbey Tyrna, from UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County; Jason Wagman, a conservation biologist with FWC; and other FWC biologists. When managed for wildlife habitat, ranch land can be an important refuge for deer, quail, and gopher tortoises, and provides corridors for panthers, bears and other large wildlife. Read more about how ranch lands contribute to wildlife.

The stonefly (Plecoptera) nymph (shown here at 40x magnification) has a high biotic value and a low pollution tolerance, indicating that this organism is found in healthier freshwater environments, such as Big Lake, where this specimen was found.

Other exciting experiences we have offered in our FMNP classes include: scoping of gopher tortoise burrows and invasive reptile management in our Sarasota County parks; evaluation of wetlands; kayak trips; behind-the-scenes prairie tour at Myakka River State Park; scrub management for scrub-jays at Oscar Scherer State Park; Florida panther presentation; and bird walks at Celery Fields.

Come share in the mission of the Florida Master Naturalist Program: to promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world among Florida’s citizens and visitors. Classes are offered on an ongoing basis throughout Florida.

At UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County we have a team of instructors that offer all the FMNP classes, and currently have “Wildlife Monitoring” scheduled for January and “Freshwater” scheduled in February. We look forward to seeing you for a one-of-a-kind experience in nature.

Learn more about, or register for, an upcoming class: https://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/fmnp/

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Sarasota County prohibits discrimination in all services, programs or activities. View the complete policy at www.scgov.net/ADA.

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