Raising awareness for Texas conservation

Lloyd+Lietz+speaks+about+beekeeping+to+Edd+Robinett%2C+Bob+McCormick%2C+and+Bob+Wood+at+The+Prairie+Oaks+Master+Naturalists+Nature+Fest+in+2019.

Photo Courtesy of Prairie Oaks Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists

Lloyd Lietz speaks about beekeeping to Edd Robinett, Bob McCormick, and Bob Wood at The Prairie Oaks Master Naturalists Nature Fest in 2019.

The Prairie Oaks Texas Master Naturalist Chapter is a collegiate chapter of Texas Master Naturalists. Members include both community members and students from Tarleton State University, and Stephenville, Texas.

“Texas Master Naturalist is a statewide program, their mission is to train volunteers to go out into the community to do outreach, education and service,” President of the Prairie Oaks Master Naturalist Chapter, Karen Aho, said.

The Texas Master Naturalist program, consists of 48 chapters located across the state. Their main goal is to develop a corps of well-informed citizen volunteers, through education, outreach and service. Texas Master Naturalists play a key role in advocating for the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities throughout Texas.

The Prairie Oaks Master Naturalist Chapter is open to the Stephenville community to join as well as Tarleton students.

Students have the additional option to register for the course as one of their electives or special topics.

The course is offered in the spring as WSES 3387 for undergraduates. The official course name is Conservation, Outreach and Interpretation. Students getting their masters can also register for the course at WSES 5090, which can be one of their special topics.

“We currently have a few major projects we have been working on for a few years which was presented by a WSES graduate student, Seth Hamby. The first is the Bosque Nature Center which is along the Bosque river. We have a pollinator garden as well as a prairie,” Aho said.

The Bosque Nature Center has many aspects to it. The pollinator garden is at certain points of the year the main focal point because of its beautiful flowers.

“We have a greater vision for the area,” Aho said.

They have had a little bit of trouble through the years of keeping the invasive plants, like Bermuda grass, out of their prairie. With a partnership with Tarleton State University they just received a grant to plant more native grasses.

“Two weeks ago, we had a big workday where members and Tarleton students came out and planted native shrubs and trees along the Bosque River Trail,” Aho said.

The hope is that these trees will provide more bird habitats. In the long-term, they hope to build a teaching gazebo to have a better space to teach various groups of the community, as well as bird blind area.

“The bird blind area will help folks be a little bit farther, behind the blind, this will help people see the birds in the trees that we just planted,” Aho said.

Master Naturalists are also expected to pursue a minimum of eight hours of advanced training in areas of personal interest and are encouraged to develop personal projects connecting to the mission of the chapter and statewide program.

To maintain their certification, volunteers are asked to provide 40 hours of service a year in community education, demonstration and habitat enhancement projects.

“We have approximately 50 members currently. Students go through the class sometimes and then either move or cannot come so they drop out, but the great thing is that they can rejoin at any point and since they already completed their class all they have to do is maintain their eight-hour advanced trainings,” Aho said.

Members can volunteer depending on what they are passionate about and where they are located. The Prairie Oaks Chapter covers four counties, Erath, Comanche, Hamilton and Palo Pinto.

The Prairie Oaks Chapter members go out to the Bosque Nature Center once a week maintaining the pollinator garden by pulling weeds or planting new native plants.

The Texas Master Naturalist program is sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Their monthly meetings are on the third Thursday of the month at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center at 1229 N. US Hwy 281, in Stephenville. Meetings are open to the public. A business portion begins at 6 p.m. followed by an hour-long presentation by a guest speaker. You can visit their website to find out who the speaker will be at www.txmn.org/prairieoaks.

Even if you are not a part of the Prairie Oaks Chapter you can still participate in their workdays. They post to their Facebook and website about their workdays. People can also get in contact with the President at [email protected] tarleton.edu.