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Learning about the birds and the bees at Orillia's Lakehead

Inside Halton

February 9, 2015

By Frank Matys

Reptiles, plants, rocks and minerals are among the other outdoorsy topics the inaugural class will delve into while participating in the school’s recently launched ‘Ontario Master Naturalist’ program.

It is the first of its kind in Canada and is the result of a memorandum of understanding signed by Lakehead University and Ontario Nature, an organization dedicated to protecting and restoring natural habitats through research, education and conservation.

“We really hope that it will take flight and be something that will actually grow,” said Caroline Shultz, executive director of Ontario Nature.

Aimed at naturalists and those interested in nature and environmental stewardship, the program is designed to broaden participants’ knowledge base through formal training and guidance.

“Naturalists, over the years have learned in the field on their own, but this will help them get started, give them good building blocks and a fine base to go from there in order to understand the natural forces around them,” said naturalist Bob Bowles, who conceived the program.

The inaugural session (May 2 to June 27) involves six half-day modules that combine in-class instruction with field observation.

Topics include: Ontario landscapes; botany and local plants; amphibians and reptiles; birds; water and wetlands; and invertebrates.

Participants are additionally expected to complete 30 hours of volunteer service for a non-profit organization involved in local environmental or naturalist work.

Dr. Kim Fedderson, dean and vice-provost, said the university was “thrilled” to partner with Ontario Nature and applauded Bowles’ efforts to bring the program to fruition.

“This is a way in which we are going to get people throughout Simcoe County to come to Lakehead University and to study in this program,” Fedderson said.

Forty-six states in the United States have master naturalist programs, Bowles said.

“There have been none in Canada,” he said, adding Edmonton offers a recreational naturalist program that “is not quite on the same level”.

The program is not a credited university course, but is rather a community studies course, Bowles noted.

“It will certainly make a difference on your resume if you are a student (applying for a related job),” he added. “It will be a very big advantage.”

For information about requirements, fees and registration, go to lakeheadu.ca/masternaturalist or ontarionature.org/masternaturalist.

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