FALMOUTH — Becoming a Maine master naturalist requires a big commitment in time and money. But in return participants get in-depth training in the state’s ecosystems, including its plants and animals, conservation biology and more.

The Maine Master Naturalist Program is now taking applicants for its upcoming course, which will be held at Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm in Falmouth starting in April.

The program is open to any resident 18 and over and provides the opportunity to “examine the natural resources of Maine … (and) connect with others who share a passion for nature,” the organization’s website says.

The goal of the naturalist master program is to create a network of volunteers who will in turn work to “inspire the public to cherish Maine’s natural resources,” according to Beth Longcopes, who is helping to manage the spring class.

The overall objective, she added, is to train people to teach natural history at parks, conservation organizations, land trusts, and schools throughout Maine, and to encourage stewardship of Maine’s natural environment.

The cost is $500 per person and applications are due by Jan. 2. Those interested can apply online at www.mainemasternaturalist.org.

The course runs for approximately a year and generally requires one, three-hour weeknight session and one full Saturday per month. Newly minted naturalist masters are then required to provide 40 hours of volunteer work the first year and 20 hours per year after that.

“Students participate in rigorous classes and field experiences focused on Maine’s flora and fauna, ecological principles and natural communities,” according to a Maine Master Naturalist Program press release.

“Since it began five years ago, the Maine Master Naturalist Program has trained more than 150 graduates, who now bring the wonders of nature to explorers of all ages,” said Cheryl Ring, president of the organization’s board.

In addition to class and field work, students are also required to study one aspect of natural history and spend a minimum of 20 hours developing a capstone educational program, field experience, trail guide, or similar product that can be used to initiate others into the special natural characteristics of Maine.

The core curriculum focuses on mammals, including tracking, birds, amphibians and reptiles, insects, plant families and fruiting structures, wildflowers, and shrubs, trees, ferns, winter plant identification, lichens, vernal pools, geology and nature journaling.

Throughout the course, students will also be required to collect and preserve specimens from trees, ferns, wildflowers and insects.

The course is not designed for professionals who would like to use the naturalist master designation to further their careers, but for those who have a genuine interest in the outdoors, a basic knowledge and curiosity about the natural world and a demonstrated history of volunteerism, according to the Maine Master Naturalist Program website.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Those hoping to earn Maine Naturalist Master certification spend a lot of time in the field, studying the state’s special flora and fauna, from insects to mammals and more.

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