“For in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum
These words, spoken in 1968 before the General Assembly of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), are simple but inspiring. The more we understand about our natural world, the more motivated we’ll be to protect it.
This philosophy played an important role in the creation of the Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) 20 years ago. Our vision was for the FMNP to inform, prepare, and empower individuals to help strengthen the conservation ethic of the people of Florida. As educators, we must not only provide information, but also inspire and empower those we teach to be our partners and help educate and inspire others we would otherwise never reach. As widespread interest grew in a statewide program that could unite educators from many different organizations and participants from diverse backgrounds, this vision became reality and has remained the core of our mission.
The first 20 years
We’ve come a long way since a handful of colleagues offered the first FMNP classes on a trial basis in 2001. Since then, we’ve completed more than 1,200 courses, issued nearly 20,000 FMNP graduate certificates, and provided nearly 700,000 educational contact hours.
We currently offer 10 courses that cover a variety of topics on ecosystems, management, restoration and interpretation. Many FMNP graduates have taken more than one course – 2,610 people have completed the three core courses to achieve the title of Florida Master Naturalist, and more than 200 have taken seven or more courses to achieve the title of Advanced Master Naturalist.
The FMNP instructor network covers the state and includes more than 160 certified instructors in 67 instructor teams. Many of our instructors have been with us for more than a decade, and some since our humble beginnings in 2001. In addition to UF/IFAS Extension faculty, instructors come from other educational institutions, state and federal agencies, NGOs, nature centers and more. The diversity of instructors and organizations contributing to FMNP courses represents a remarkable collaboration that has contributed enormously to the success of the program.
Even after 20 years I continue to be amazed at the knowledge and dedication of the FMNP instructors who I refer to as the heroes of the program because of their skill, passion, and dedication to providing exceptional learning and life experiences for FMNP participants.
FMNP training, however, is just the first step in our vision and serves as a doorway for continued learning and active engagement for many of those who participate. As spoken by one graduate:
“Best thing I have ever done. I have learned so much, met so many wonderful people, and found meaningful ways to get involved.”- Ellen Elliot, Florida Master Naturalist
FMNP graduates use skills and knowledge gained from courses in many ways – sharing nature with their children and friends, engaging in volunteer activities, becoming better teachers and ecotour guides, becoming active in promoting conservation awareness and policies, finding jobs and changing careers, and some have even been motivated to return to school to seek a formal degree.
Many new friendships (and at least two marriage proposals ) have been made among participants who met during FMNP courses. This social aspect has resulted in the formation of FMNP Friends Groups around the state that provide opportunities for FMNP graduates to stay engaged, volunteer, and become more involved in environmental events and projects in their communities.
We know that we’ve only scratched the surface of the true impacts that FMNP graduates are making because these things are difficult to track and because FMNP graduates are contributing to a multiplication effect. By educating those who educate others, we are engendering a stronger conservation ethic and a greater appreciation for the need to wisely use and care for the natural world and environmental resources that sustain and enrich our lives.
Martin B. Main, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation
Program Leader, Florida Master Naturalist Program
- For more information about the FMNP – MasterNaturalist.org.
- Questions about the FMNP should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For information on FMNP courses click here and current course offerings click here. If you don’t see a course that you wish to take currently offered, click here to find an instructor in your area to inquire about their scheduling plans.
- For information on FMNP Friends Groups click here.
- For more information and application instructions to become an FMNP Instructor click here.
- For more information about the FMNP endowment fund click here.