by Scott Hudson
After such a wet Winter and Spring, we’re well settled into the dog days this August. Thank goodness Fall is just around the corner. We can all look forward to bird migrations, cooler weather, and the Texas Master Naturalist 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting! I’m really excited about this year’s meeting. With a wide range of offerings and travel not an obstacle, we’re set for a fine four days. More on the state meeting is elsewhere in this newsletter.
Cheers to the New Class!
Members of the 2020 New Class are diligently pressing on toward certification. Attendance remained strong as classes shifted online, as did participation, with lively Q&A and chat sessions. Many have already met the requirements to certify and several have far exceeded the hours needed. This group’s enthusiasm is inspiring!
To help complete training, a series of optional, small-group field trips is underway. Although the state dropped the field training requirement for this year, these trips tie together so much of classroom learning, they really round out the basic class. Watch for a special focus on this class in the September chapter meeting.
Plans for the 2021 Class are already shaping up. As instructors commit to the spring schedule we are planning for online classes. Should coronavirus concerns abate unexpectedly, it will be a pleasure to pivot to in-person training.
Service Opportunities – Online and In Person
Though volunteer opportunities are scaled back this year, I’m hearing from many members who have found places to serve online. The Botanical Research Institute of Texas is a good example.
Another online avenue is working on the chapter board or committees. With so many members and projects it takes a lot of folks to keep NTMN rolling along smoothly. The nominating process is underway, making this an ideal time to speak up about your interests. Board and committee work will continue online into 2021.
Some of you may now find yourself in a position where you’re comfortable volunteering in person and need a place to plug in (properly socially distanced and masked, of course)! Use your own judgment; no one should volunteer for a situation if they’re not comfortable with it.
There are several projects offering regular workdays. One with a long chapter history is the NTMN project at Texas Discovery Gardens. Most members are familiar with the wonderful resource the gardens provide. A great place to learn about native and adaptive plants, they also provide a beautiful setting to relax and watch pollinators at work.
You can well imagine the impact of not having NTMN volunteers to care for the gardens this spring. All that fertile soil. All that rain. Yes, a few invaders took advantage. Some desirable species found opportunities to grow beyond their allotted space. Project Lead Judy Meagher coordinates workdays every Tuesday, 8-12, as well as third Thursdays of the month, same time.
In normal years TDG is among the top volunteer projects our chapter has. That may not be so this year, particularly with no State Fair. As revenue to support TDG continues to shrink, the gardens are at a crossroads. Volunteer efforts make a real difference. Judy can definitely put you to work! It’s fun to see fellow Master Naturalists there, and Popsicle breaks help keep the heat at bay.
Who isn’t hungry for good news? This month marks a special event: The Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law. This is a real win for our national parks, with $9.5 billion going toward deferred maintenance over the next five years. The priority project list will be out late this Fall. We’ll see whether any of Texas’ 16 national parks, monuments, historical sites, trails, etc., receive funding.
Of more lasting consequence, and perhaps more local interest, The Act permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at its authorized $900 million annually. This fund uses revenue from off-shore oil and gas to purchase land for recreation and conservation purposes. This includes grants to state and local governments. LWCF expenditures in the NTMN portion of Texas passed the $10 million mark years ago.
The Harvard Gazette called this Act “the biggest land conservation legislation in a generation,” an effort that has been in the works literally for decades. Nothing makes for odd bedfellows like politics and there are interesting backstories here. That aside, simply having this pass with solid bipartisan support is a good thing.
Last year Texans adopted Proposition 5, securing sporting goods sales tax revenue for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Taking these two actions together, there are some genuine bright spots on the conservation horizon. Very welcome news for Naturalists.
Health and Safety
A couple of thoughts about coronavirus. Our hearts continue to go out to those most affected by illness, jobs lost, damage to the economy, and the concerns of essential workers, parents, students, and educators.
Thanks to everyone for your support of steps to keep people healthy and of the board decision to stay in the mostly online mode for now. I know we miss meeting in person. These challenges wear on us. Fatigue makes it easy to forget that good science led us to take the measures we have. It’s led us to implement the safety/hygiene/distancing measures we continue. We’ll get to a more open new normal, also based on good science. It helps me to focus on that. Until then, I hope you’re encouraged to persevere. And I hope you can find ways to be refreshed and renewed by nature.
Thank you for all you do for our community.