Fishin’ Hole Nature: What Is A Texas Master Naturalist?

Article by Bronwyn Clear, Certified Texas Master Naturalist. Photos by Piney Wood Lakes Chapter Master Naturalists

What is a Master Naturalist? Master Gardener is simpler to understand because of the word ‘gardener”. But a Master Naturalist? Timi Maples, President of the Piney Wood Lakes Chapter, says “Master” is a misrepresentation because people can “never achieve becoming a master of nature, but they can enjoy continually learning, improving and understanding some aspect of the nature around them”. The list for learning is vast and endless making it wide open for anyone to become a Master Naturalist.

Perhaps the best way to understand the organization is to see who is a Master Naturalist and read about the projects they like to do.

Sue Russell lives in San Jacinto County and has long dealt with physical handicaps, but this has never stopped her from becoming an ardent conservationist and a Master Naturalist. As she points out, “Service projects can be done in a person’s own backyard or nearby sanctuaries, and they don’t necessarily require tromping through swamps and thickets.” One of Sue’s many service projects involves the collection of springtime insects from traps provided by the Texas A&M Forest Service and USDA. She then sends them to insect specialists, entomologists, for identification and cataloging. This type of citizen scientist program helps the forestry service understand and combat the spread of harmful insects that attack our native trees.

Jim Meyer is a retired Air Force Colonel who lives in Polk County. One of his service projects is to gather and clean monofilament fishing line taken from 26 bins and containers around Lake Livingston. Fishermen can deposit their line in special receptacles installed by the Master Naturalists at boat ramps, fishing piers and bait shops. This was one of the very first projects started by past president Susan Tullos years ago. In five years Jim has recovered 48 lbs of fishing line, and sent it to Berkely fishing tackle company for recycling into spools, toys and tackle boxes. Jim says, “It takes 600 years to break down fishing line.” If you think about the length of time, 600 years ago Columbus had not yet discovered America! He proudly says, “It keeps the line out of Lake Livingston, stops it from harming turtles, fish and birds, and prevents it from fouling boat propellers. It is one facet of keeping our lake clean.”

Another facet of keeping a lake healthy is to propagate and plant various native aquatic plants. Ron Diderich is a resident of Polk County. He retired on the shores of Lake Livingston and says, “The lake is my backyard, and there was so much about it I did not know! The possibilities were vast and deep.” He was looking to fill the void of hours during retirement, but it had to be something of value as well as something that would give him personal fulfillment. The Master Naturalists, their welcoming members and their projects, provided him with a great base. Goals and projects are always evolving, but the main goals for this service project are to involve future generations in conservation, and to extend the lifetime of Lake Livingston. After working arm-in-arm with many local high schools and students to grow and plant lake plants, Ron enthusiastically states, “The future is in great hands! These are terrific kids who are focused on making our world better.”

Justine Henley is retired from an oilfield service company and lives in Montgomery County. Among her projects is an October event called Monarch Watch coordinated by the North American Butterfly Association. She joins them to catch and tag the big orange and black butterflies as they migrate from Texas to Mexico. By working with a coordinator on a plot of land filled with pollinator plants people learn to catch Monarchs, put a tiny tag on a specific portion of one wing, identify male versus female, and note down other critical research data. The butterflies are then released back into the wild and continue to Mexico where rewards are given to people who relay tag information to an 800 number. As Justine says, “It is a great activity for young and old alike. One year I brought my grandson and he really enjoyed the entire day! It’s about Monarch butterfly conservation, and it’s a great way to get kids interested in nature.”

Chris Clear is a retired geologist who lives part-time in San Jacinto County. Being a part-timer is no problem for the local chapter because it is a volunteer program. Chris said, “I prefer physical work projects, and one is building bluebird nest boxes to help increase the native bluebird population.” He builds the boxes to exacting specifications from the Texas Bluebird Society, and to date he has installed six of them in Wolf Creek Park on Lake Livingston. Additional chapter members then join forces to check the boxes through the nesting season. Every week Chris Clear, Bronwyn Clear or Olivia Wood carefully inspect the nests, eggs, and chicks, and then upload these data to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology citizen scientist program, called Nest Watch. Also, this program can be done by virtually anyone who finds a nest in their own back yard! Using nesting information uploaded by people all over the US Cornell researchers learn so much more about a large variety of birds’ breeding habits.

Timi strongly believes it benefits a chapter to have a diverse group of people who have different strengths and ideas. Drue does puppet shows about nature to children at the local Livingston library. Kathleen is a board member on the Watson Nature Sanctuary. Jerry gathers precipitation data from his backyard each day for a nationwide database. Bron publishes monthly nature articles. Let your imagination run! What would you like to learn about? What would you like to do? Come join the Texas Master Naturalists and find out.

To find a chapter close to you, or to read about the state program, go online to www.txmn.org. Volunteer and get involved!

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Catching, tagging and releasing Monarch Butterflies

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Installing bluebird nest boxes in Wolf Creek Park

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High school kids join volunteer groups to help plant water willows in Lake Livingston

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Fishing line recovery and recycling Reel anglers recycle!