Start the new year in the great outdoors as a Texas Master Naturalist

SAN BENITO  –  The Lower Rio Grande Valley chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist Program is now accepting applications for training classes that start Jan. 9, according to Tony Reisinger, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for coastal and marine resources based in San Benito.

Texas Master Naturalists in South Texas play a critical role in rescuing distressed sea animals, among other tasks. Here, Dr. Tom deMarr, Gladys Porter Zoo senior veterinarian, and Don Hockaday, retired marine biologist, examine the flukes of an injured dolphin. (AgriLife Extension photo by Tony Reisinger)

The deadline to apply is Jan. 2. Class size is limited, and a few scholarships are available so early applications are encouraged, Reisinger said. The fee for the training is $125.

“This is an invitation to become involved in one of the most exciting environmental programs the Valley has to offer,” Reisinger said. “Participants will be furnished with all the education and information they need to help in the various strategies to restore and conserve our indigenous species and habitats.”

The Valley’s Texas Master Naturalist chapter started in 2002 and has more than 100 members in the four-county area it serves, Reisinger said.

“The mission of this program is to develop and certify a group of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach and service dedicated toward the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within our community,” he said.

In the training classes, local experts cover topics about the area’s natural resources and lead hands-on field trips to local ecosystems, Reisinger said.

“Each trainee can select from a wide variety of approved local projects to volunteer their time, which can include habitat restoration, native plant rescues, native seed collection, school habitats and educational presentations, or they can design a project of their own.”

To become a certified Texas Master Naturalist in the Rio Grande chapter, trainees must fulfill several requirements, including attending a total of 40 hours in training and field trips, provide 40 hours of volunteer services within a year and take a minimum of eight hours of advanced training within a year.

To maintain active status, Texas Master Naturalists must provide 40 hours of volunteer service and take eight additional hours of advanced training per year, Reisinger said.

“ If you’d like to learn about the unique environment of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, this course will teach you our amazing natural diversity and open a new world of both wonder and understanding for this magical place,” he said.

Virginia Vineyard, outgoing president of the Rio Grande Valley chapter of Texas Master Naturalist Program, said the program offers participants a unique experience.
“I love this organization because it offers an opportunity to experience what it’s really like to get involved in an environmental way,” she said. “We partner with 20 different agencies and organizations to perform all sorts of activities, including developing habitat trails, planting vegetation in areas being reclaimed, rescuing cold-stunned turtles, working at Hugh Ramsey Park in Harlingen or helping out a school. Or people can volunteer to do administrative work to help our chapter grow. The opportunities are endless; there’s something for everyone.”

The new president, Alicia Cavazos of San Benito, begins her term in January.

Training classes will be held at two Valley locations this year, from 6-9 p.m. every Tuesday in Mission and 6-9 p.m. every Wednesday in San Benito. Participants can attend at either location, or mix and match locations, Reisinger said.

Orientation and classes begin Jan. 9 at the Cameron County Annex Building at Williams Road and State Highway 77/83 in San Benito, and on Jan. 10 at Bentsen State Park in Mission. Classes will continue for ten weeks.

“Class size is limited to 24 students so we recommend that those interested submit their applications as soon as possible,” Reisinger said.

An application form and background check must be completed and postmarked by Jan. 2. Training fee must be included with each application. Make checks payable to RGVCTMN, and mailed  to RGVCTMN Education Chair, P.O. Box 532129, Harlingen, Texas 78553.

This program is sponsored by AgriLife Extension Service, Texas Sea Grant at Texas A&M University and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

For more information email rgvctmneduchair@gmail.com, call 956-245-0177 or visit the website at www.rgvctmn.org.

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