UC Merced

UC Merced naturalist program will expand on $103,000 gift

The Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve was dedicated last April. Its 6,500 acres  is home to coyotes, birds of prey, songbirds, and many rare plants and animals.  California Naturalist classes at UC Merced will use the reserve for study.
The Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve was dedicated last April. Its 6,500 acres is home to coyotes, birds of prey, songbirds, and many rare plants and animals. California Naturalist classes at UC Merced will use the reserve for study. Merced Sun-Star file

Three naturalist classes offered at UC Merced will expand spring and fall course offerings at the university’s reserve and Yosemite National Park thanks to a grant, the school announced last week.

The $103,000 gift from the Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas will help add courses for students interested in becoming a California naturalist, a University of California Extension certification of those who have studied the state’s natural world and environmental stewardship.

The courses use the 6,500-acre Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve and Yosemite for study. Like other UC Extension programs, it is open to the public.

Reserve Manager Chris Swarth teaches a semester-long course for UC Merced undergraduates. Students hike in the reserve and the nearby foothills to learn about natural history and ecology.

Year-round, the reserve is home to songbirds, coyotes, birds of prey and many other animals. It is also habitat for rare plants such the succulent owl’s clover and Hoover’s spurge, as well as unusual animals such as the fairy shrimp and tiger salamander.

“There are quite a few students who have a real craving to learn about the reserve and nature,” Swarth said. “They see the reserve from campus, but have never been there.”

Students who complete the course are qualified to help at the reserve, where they could teach groups of schoolchildren, assist with field trips, accompany researchers and help preserve the land.

The courses might interest students thinking about pursuing a career as a scientist, park ranger or teacher, Swarth said.

The money from the Mitsubishi gift will add two part-time coordinators for the California Naturalist courses and pay for field notebooks, binoculars and other supplies.

Becca Fenwick, manager of the Yosemite Field Station reserve at Wawona, offers a one-week California Naturalist course with the Yosemite Conservancy each fall in the park. “It’s all day, every day for a week, and participants stay here in Yosemite and take field trips and classes,” Fenwick said. “They learn about the natural history of the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite.”

The third course, also taught by Swarth, is a 12-week version of the California Naturalist course. Sign-ups are going on now for the next class, which starts in March.

The program also received $7,500 from the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources to provide scholarships for people who need help covering tuition.

To become certified, California Naturalist students must complete final projects and 40 hours of community service with environmental nonprofits.

The naturalist courses range from $350 to $800. For more information, email Fenwick at bfenwick@ucmerced.edu or Swarth at cswarth@ucmerced.edu.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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