Wednesday, November 25 , 2015, 1:03 am | Fair 54º

Posted on 08.13.2014 12:05 p.m.

Enrollment Opens for Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Naturalist Program

Last year’s class from the California Naturalist Program at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.
Last year’s class from the California Naturalist Program at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.  (Contributed photo)

Source: Rebecca Mordini for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is proud to announce that enrollment is now open for its next 10-week California Naturalist Program.

The class starts on Oct. 1 and continues through Dec. 10, 2014. A free Open House will be held on Sept. 3 in the garden for anyone interested in the program. 

The Naturalist Program certification introduces students to the wonders of the California Central Coast region’s unique ecology and engages volunteers in the stewardship of our natural communities. The goal of this education is to foster a committed corps of volunteer naturalists and citizen scientists trained and ready to take an active role in natural resource conservation, education, and restoration.

The program combines science curriculum, hands-on learning, problem-solving, and community service to instill a deep appreciation and understanding of the natural environment of California and to inspire individuals to become guardians of their local resources.

The garden is pleased to have returning speaker, Dr. Tanya Atwater (geology) as just one of our lecturers. Also teaching this session will be Steve Windhager, executive director for the garden (environmental ethics) and Yvonne Menard, Channel Islands National Park (interpretation) among others. 

The next California Naturalist training program will held on Wednesdays beginning Oct. 1 from 4 to 7:30 p.m. in the garden’s Blaksly Library.

The program costs $320 per student. Applications and reservations are available at or by calling the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden registrar at 805.682.4726 ext. 102. 

The garden is hosting a free open house for the California Naturalist Program on Wednesday, Sept. 3,  from 4 to 7:30 p.m. in its Blaksley Library.

This informal informational gathering will feature some of the lecturers, including Joan Lentz, author of “A Naturalist Guide to the Santa Barbara Region” as well as several California Naturalist graduates who will be presenting some of their Capstone Projects. Participants can also get information about volunteer opportunities in our local area from the Garden, Arroyo Hondo, Channel Islands Restoration and others. 

There are Master Naturalist programs in 26 other states, but this is the first such program in California. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden was chosen as one of just five pilot sites throughout the state to offer California Naturalists Program certification when it was created in 2011 through the University of California Cooperative Extension.

The course is conducted in collaboration with several local partners including Sedgwick Reserve, Channel Islands National Park, Arroyo Hondo, San Marcos Foothill Project, and UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER).

These organizations create a comprehensive platform for learning about natural history and ecology, which serves as a shared experience for docents and volunteers for all of the organizations. The program provides an overview of California‘s diverse ecology through a well-written and accessible workbook, as well as with more in-depth study of the ecology of the Central Coast through lectures and field trips.

The course is an excellent introduction to becoming a citizen scientist, an amateur naturalist, or just an informed and enthusiastic hiker. Additional online components such as iNaturalist and the state website ( support Santa Barbara Naturalists as they become connected with other graduates from around the state.

“The response to the California Naturalist training has been tremendous and the participants have enthusiastically embraced their new naturalist volunteer roles to help make our community a better place to live and grow,” said Norma Hogan, Education Coordinator for the Program. “We are looking forward to offering the program for years to come.” 

Almost 60 Santa Barbara-area students have graduated from the 10-week training held at the garden. The course is divided into sessions focusing on state and local geology, geography, water, energy, plants, ecosystems, wildlife, and environmental challenges, and was taught by local scientists and experts. Certified volunteers completed 40 hours of combined classroom and field training, along with a recommended 40 hours of volunteer service to the local community, in the following areas: 

» Scientific research—plant identification or data collection; 

» Environmental monitoring—bird counts, stream sampling, invasive species monitoring; 

» Restoration or conservation projects—seed collection, native plant propagation, and planting; 

» Education—docent volunteers, developing signs or brochures, leading nature hikes, making science more accessible to others through support of the Naturalist Program, or other community outreach activities. 

Many of the graduates will become docents at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, or partner organizations. Here are some comments from the first class: 

“I think the program has been fantastic - not just the classes but the independent project and the volunteerism requirement.” — Kate McCurdy, Manager of Sedgwick Reserve. 

“There was such energy and enthusiasm from class members. My fellow students came from many different backgrounds, professions, organizations and interests that each class was dynamic with questions and conversations.” — Susan Mohun. 

“This program had a spirited group of dedicated, like-minded participants with diverse backgrounds - all sharing a deep interest in the environment. The Capstone Projects (final presentations by participants), on a wide range of topics, presented by each individual were so impressive! And the field trips to several local nature reserves provided a great hands-on learning experience.” — Ann Brinker, SBBG docent 

The pilot class was supported by a grant from Montecito Bank and Trust and the Steinmetz Foundation, along with environmental education partner organizations including the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Arroyo Hondo Preserve, Sedgwick Reserve, CCBER at UCSB, Channelkeepers, the Carpinteria Salt Marsh, and others. Students complete and present a simple capstone project to bridge the learning from the class into the field at the end of the program. 

About the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden: The garden is a 78-acre educational and scientific institution fostering stewardship of the natural world through inspired learning, rigorous scholarship, and premier displays in Santa Barbara, California. The garden was founded in 1926 and is one of the nation’s oldest botanic gardens focused exclusively on native plants.

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