CORVALLIS, Ore. – Jason O'Brien must adapt to an entirely new ecosystem this month after leaving Iowa State University to become the first coordinator of the new Master Naturalist Program at Oregon State University.
But O'Brien looks forward to the challenges he faces in learning about Oregon's natural resources in what he calls a dream job. "When it comes to people, Iowa and Oregon have a lot of similarities," he said, "primarily because the land is the basis of how we make a living."
Prior to his arrival in Oregon, O'Brien was interim ISU Extension wildlife specialist and director of the Iowa NatureMapping Program.
O'Brien will "put wheels under the program" that has been under development for more than a year and a half, according to Jim Johnson, program leader of the OSU Forestry and Natural Resources Extension program. O'Brien will start training the first volunteers next spring.
The Master Naturalist program is similar to the popular OSU Master Gardener program in that individuals receive training from university experts and volunteer their services to the community.
Volunteers will help with education at schools and interpretation at nature centers, Johnson said. Stewardship projects might involve planting trees or removing invasive plants, and volunteers can do "citizen science" with research projects such as water-quality monitoring.
"The Master Naturalist program is a great fit in Oregon," Johnson said, "and funding is secured for three years. People like to have an organized way to help the environment, and this is a good way to do it," he said. Funding agencies are the Oregon Department of Forestry and four OSU Extension Service programs: Forestry and Natural Resources, Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, 4-H Youth Development and Sea Grant.
Other organizations that have expressed interest in becoming advisers and partners include the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Siskiyou Field Institute in Cave Junction and the Oregon Zoo in Portland.
In addition, OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport received funding from the National Science Foundation to start work on the coastal regional program.
The statewide program is expected to have training for everyone, as well as by eco-regions such as the coast, Klamath-Siskiyou and eastern Oregon regions.
The OSU Master Gardener program began in 1976 and trains more than 800 people a year. The first 24 volunteers in the newly formed Climate Masters program trained last winter. Other OSU programs are the Master Woodland Manager, Master Food Preservers, Master Recyclers and Master Watershed Stewards.