The Master Naturalist Program and My Oregon Journey, By Tina Peterson

Note from Brandy Saffell, OMN Program Coordinator: Tina originally posted this article on her online blog, By the Light of the Silvery Moon. You can read the post on her website here

  Mt Hood from Powell Butte

Oregon is a storied land of ecoregions spanning the dry and the wet, the forest, the coast the mountains and the prairie.  This land has been my dream destination for over 30 years and finally, in mid 2016, I moved to the Portland metropolitan area as a retiree with a new masters degree in Environmental Studies, a bunch of varied outdoor volunteer experience and a determination to find a niche.  


This post tells the story of how that niche developed through taking the introductory online course from the Oregon Master Naturalist program, doing volunteer work at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge and participating as a researcher in a study about the value of restoration partnerships in the Tualatin basin.  Through these activities, the natural and environmental world of Oregon began to unfold. 
The Oregon Master Naturalist program brings together a wide variety of information about Oregon through a mix of text, video, interaction and activities to learn about fundamental natural forces that shape the landscape as well as features of specific ecoregions and species of concern. 
The course began with general modules on geology, ecology, environmental management and hydrology of Oregon and continued with specific in-depth looks at forests and rangeland.  It ended with a discussion of social/political/environmental issue of changing climate.  
Additional workshops on lichen and fungus added focus to the more general material.  Homework was to the point and flexible so I focused the geology, hydrology and environmental assignments on the Tualatin basin where I was volunteering.   Where else could I have learned so much in eight weeks?  The OMN experience provided a organized introduction to my new environment and, importantly, I made new friends as well. 
The Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is a wetland treasure, providing lush overwintering sites for migratory waterfowl, songbirds and shorebirds plus beautiful opportunities for visitors to experience oak savannah, the forest and a rich riparian environment. Volunteering at the refuge became a good way to put OMN learning into practice.  I joined the Friends of the Refuge’s Naturalist program PuddleStompers for preschool children and their families and also became a Trail Rover, greeting and assisting visitors on the trail. 
In a shot time, OMN has influenced my refuge volunteer work in two great “aha” moments of confluence, one around the beauty and value of lichen.  Instead of walking the trail, I stationed myself at a large tree and greeted visitors with an invitation to look through a hand lens at surprisingly lovely lichen gardens.  We shared our amazement at the various forms lichen can take.
Next, the OMN assignment to document a food web turned into a broader map of this specific oak’s pivotal place in the refuge’s riverine landscape.  Below is a draft of the oak web, a work in progress that informs interaction with refuge visitors and can become the basis of a learning module.  
A study out of PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions (ISS) on the value of partnerships for restoration projects in the Tualatin basin provided a way to use my interview research and analysis skills.  ISS Research Assistant Professor Rebecca McLain led this interview-based project and my role was in part to interview restoration participants, gather stories and write case studies about early volunteers working to restore refuge lands alongside partner organizations such as Clean Water Services and Tree for All. This project provided me with an invaluable view into local environmental issues and practices and how they interlink with social and political values in community-based collaboratives right in my backyard. These insights and experiences dovetailed with both the OMN watershed module and my refuge volunteering and consequently led me to choose the Tualatin basin as the example setting for several OMN module assignments. 
Thank you to the leaders and volunteers in these three organizations who have helped me accomplish exactly what I came to Oregon to learn and do, plus more beyond my original objectives.  I’ve made great friends with whom to explore the natural world and talk lichen or restoration partnering or ways to engage preschoolers in outdoor science. 
What’s next?  NAI Interpretation training, more refuge volunteering, another research project, widening my explorations and enjoying current friends and making new friends. 
Links of Interest
Oregon Master Naturalist Program   http://oregonmasternaturalist.org/
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (plan a visit) https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Tualatin_River/
Friends of the Tualatin River NWR  (find out about volunteering)   http://friendsoftualatinrefuge.org/
National Association for Interpretation     https://www.interpnet.com find a better link
My thesis:  Wilderness State Park Volunteers:  A Qualitative Case Study of Meaning and Sustainability.  2016.  http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/etd_theses/4736/