- Author: Sarah Angulo
The start of a new year is often a chance for many of us to reflect, start fresh, and make resolutions. This year, you might want to consider adding more time in nature to your list.
Many of our naturalists can attest that being outside just feels… good. It's a hard to describe feeling that perhaps Wendell Berry may have captured well in his poem, “The Peace of Wild Things”:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
This healing power of nature to soothe us in our worries of everyday life is shared by all who enjoy nature. No matter what the experience looks like to us individually, it's this common feeling that unites us and inspires us to value, protect, and advocate for natural spaces.
As it turns out, there is scientific research to back this up.
Jim Robin writes that a team led by Mathew White at the University of Exeter completed a study of 20,000 people and "found that those who spent two hours a week in green spaces — local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits — were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don't.” Multiple studies have documented improvements in blood pressure, stress hormone levels, nervous system arousal, self-esteem, anxiety, and mood.
Ming Kuo studies the effects that nature has on human beings at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research suggests that exposure to nature has lasting positive impacts on our immune systems. Natural killer cells can be boosted from the baseline by an average of 50% after a few day period of time in nature, and an approximately 25% boost can still last within your system a month later. The same period of time in an urban space does not yield these same benefits.
Benefits of green space may ripple out from individual health, too. In a study from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, neighborhoods where they added greenery to select vacant lots saw the amount of gun assaults go down in the neighborhood by a significant 9.1%.
Important to this discussion is who has access to green space, and consequently, who may have access to better health. Poorer communities tend to have less green space. In general in the United States, census tracts with a higher proportion of racial or ethnic minorities have less green space, even independent of income. While huge strides have been made to made to increase accessibility of public lands to people with disabilities, many may have to travel further to places that can fit their needs. It should also be noted that even if there is access to the space, community members may not feel welcome, safe, or comfortable in using it for all the benefits it offers.
Adding to the discussion, Katherine Toy of the San Francisco Parks Conservancy argues, “It's also important to consider why aspects of culture can drive people away. We spend a lot of time thinking about, ‘Is it a barrier that people can't get there? Is it a barrier that it's too expensive?' Yes, all these things are barriers, but it turns out that the number one barrier is actually irrelevance. People don't see themselves in that action.” Health might not always be the main motivator for people to be using their green space. There are so many other reasons to go outside, that in working to reduce all types of different barriers for ourselves and others, we can integrate health in nature into every visit.
With these challenges, UC California Naturalist encourages our naturalists to use their local natural history knowledge to think critically about what you've gained from nature, and why. If you're someone who is able to easily access nature and receive its benefits, the next time you go outside, you may ask yourself “Who is missing? Who don't I see here?” We all deserve to have the peace of wild things fill us up this year.
Casey, J.A.; James, P.; Cushing, L.; Jesdale, B.M.; Morello-Frosch, R. “Race, Ethnicity, Income Concentration and 10-Year Change in Urban Greenness in the United States.” Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14, 1546.
Robbins, Jim. “Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health.” Yale Environment 360, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. 9 January 2020. https://e360.yale.edu/features/ecopsychology-how-immersion-in-nature-benefits-your-health
Toy, Katherine. CNRA Speaker Series - Improving Access to California's Natural and Cultural Treasures. California Natural Resources Agency. 14 January 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57mETx2vsb k
Vedantam, Shankar, host. “You 2.0: Our Better Nature.” Hidden Brain, NPR, 12 August 2019. https://www.npr.org/2019/08/12/750538458/you-2-0-our-better-nature.
- Author: Gregory Ira
Gratitude, like all good things, is cultivated. For much of the year, we are running from one deadline to the next and the time for reflection is scarce. Thanksgiving is one of the few times during the year when the conditions and context put gratitude squarely on our table and it feels delightful. But, what if there was a way for us to experience that same feeling of gratitude all year long?
Can our work as California Naturalists help us rediscover gratitude with greater intention? As naturalists we share a few traits that might help us. We value the natural world, we seek to observe it, we reflect on our experiences, and we often share our wonder and discoveries with others. I would argue that these are also important elements of gratitude – especially sharing.
For many California Naturalists, sharing comes in the form of volunteer service. If we reframe this service as not simply giving time, but giving thanks, we can cultivate gratitude. Whether you volunteer as a California Naturalist, share your discoveries and experiences with friends and family, or give to a cause that has special meaning to you, you are not only providing a service to others, you expressing gratitude and extending the best tradition from the third Thursday of November.
On behalf of our entire CalNat team, please accept our most sincere thanks for making the UC California Naturalist Program a part of your world.
- Author: Gregory Ira
Over 3,000 Corpsmembers graduate from the California Conservation Corps (CCC) every year. Some jump right into the workforce, but many enroll in college courses or seek additional training and professional development.
The California Naturalist course is a perfect opportunity for Corpsmembers to continue their learning. Like the CCC, the California Naturalist program emphasizes experiential learning with lots of hands-on and field based activities. The California Naturalist Certification is increasingly recognized as an asset for job-seekers in environmental education and natural resource management fields. In addition, Corpsmembers can access four general education credits from UC-Davis Extension (now Continuing and Professional Education) if they are interested in furthering their studies.
The California Naturalist program was recently awarded a UC ANR Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA) grant that will help us tailor certain aspects of the California Naturalist course to the needs of Corpsmembers. A pilot course hosted by UC ANR's Hopland Research and Extension Center will serve Corpsmembers based at the CCC residential camp in Ukiah. Three other residential camp representatives will also participate with the expectation of replicating the course in other regions of the state in subsequent years.
With over 45 California Naturalist partners around the state, and new partners joining every year, Corpsmembers will likely find a course within an hour of their current residence. We hope all our California Naturalist partners will unlock this new opportunity for young Corpsmembers. We think it is a perfect match that bodes well for the future stewardship of California's natural resources.
- Author: Eliot Freutel
September marks a pivotal moment in climate change conversation and action and this week, September 20-27, is Climate Week - a time where people around the world are raising their voices to talk about what climate change means to them.
The UN Global Climate Action Summit will be held in New York Sept. 23rd for international climate negotiators to discuss their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in a way that will help make the fight against climate change a reality. A recent article from the UC Newsroom by Carolyn McMillan details how the “University of California has joined forces with more than 7,000 colleges and universities around the globe to declare a climate emergency and commit to urgent action to address the crisis.” This agreement prioritizes climate related research within the UC system as well as expanded education and outreach regarding climate resilience and sustainability. This announcement is tailed by student protests to bring awareness to climate change and the University of California divestment of all funds from fossil fuels, setting an example for tackling climate change head-on and aligning your money with your values.
With every new piece of scientific evidence, the ability to remain hopeful, feel positive about our ability to address the situation, and have confidence in our capacity to engage constructively becomes a growing challenge. But there is power within all of us to tackle some of the immediate effects of climate change. The Climate Stewards Initiative (CSI) is a new certification program that will be offered through the UC California Naturalist program that “prepares individuals to communicate and engage in local solutions to advance community and ecosystem resilience.”By learning together about the causes of climate change, and actionable measures we can take to curb it, we can collectively reduce our impact and minimize the impact of changes already taking place. For people already doing these things themselves, they will learn methods and skills to communicate and work with others as to how climate change will affect them and, in the process, help them discover their own roles in the fight against climate change.
The Climate Stewards Initiative will be the first certification program of its kind in California and will provide participants with the tools they need to have an impact in their homes, communities, across the state and beyond. More than just a one-time course about climate change, Climate Stewards, is an ongoing social learning community that provides a transition from a sense of helplessness to a sense of empowerment. As community members, our efforts are multiplied when we work together toward share goals. As we band together to identify our strongest impact and act on it, we dive deep into a study on what climate resilience means to us on a personal level and help others discover answers to the same question; “what makes us resilient?” We become empowered to make changes at home, have a meaningful conversation with friends, families and neighbors, participate in local planning efforts, and advocate for environmental justice. Climate Stewards builds on the success of the UC California Naturalist program which a collective impact network designed to promote stewardship of California's natural resources through education and service. Check out the Climate Stewards webpage for more information.
- Author: Sarah Angulo
The days grow shorter and the temperatures are gradually getting cooler – fall is approaching, and that means it's time for school to start! Teachers are getting their classrooms ready and students are getting fresh supplies to head back to school. For our fall California Naturalist courses, heading into the classroom has a whole different meaning.
The classroom sessions are just a piece of the whole learning experience in a UC California Naturalist course. Take it from this West Valley College certified Naturalist, who explained, “The content presented in class before the field trip helped students understand what they were getting ready to study during our week long trip. The content during the trip helped us expand on the foundation we were left with before the trip. Interacting with others helped me out by talking to people who have visited the areas that we were in before the trip.”
The combination of classroom lectures, field trips, volunteer projects, class citizen science projects, use of iNaturalist, and interacting with guest speakers and fellow students is a unique learning experience that many naturalists describe as “transformational.” This fall, you can join the community of 4,000 people across the state who have become certified naturalists. With California's wonderful diversity in terms of both its nature and its people, there's a course that's right for everyone. We have courses taking place in the Lake Tahoe Basin, along the banks of the American River, up in the redwood forest, amidst the Coast Range's golden hills, adjacent to a National Seashore, in the coastal chaparral, right in the middle of urban space, and more! Find a fall course near you here.
Every teacher undergoes training before entering the indoor or outdoor classroom, and our California Naturalist instructors are no exception. This fall, instructors from potential new course locations have an opportunity to sign up for our instructor training. Taking place at Elkus Ranch November 13 & 14, this two day training includes a special opportunity for both new and continuing instructors.
November 13 is an introduction for organizations who have completed a partner interest form and have initiated plans together with the California Naturalist Program Team to offer the course to their community, volunteers, or staff. The workshop is one required step in the application process to partner with the program. Additional instructor team members are welcome to attend, as well as current instructors who have not undergone the instructor training in 3 or more years to receive updated information on administrative processes.
November 14 is a UCANR Fire Education Workshop- an advanced training professional development opportunity specifically for Project Learning Tree (PLT) instructors working with 4-H or CalNat to enhance their content knowledge, pedagogical skills, and use of technology in the design and delivery of fire education programs in California. The workshop will expose participants to all three elements of technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge and include opening and closing presentations providing additional context to the challenges of fire education in California and the role that PLT, 4-H, and the California Naturalist Program play in addressing them. The overarching goal of the workshop is to enhance the capacity of the instructors to deliver high quality programming to their respective audiences.
This training is geared for existing PLT instructors (educators and facilitators) from the California Naturalist program and 4-H program who have or plan to integrate a PLT workshop into their program, CalNat instructors attending the ongoing Northern California Instructor Training, and other interested 4-H participants. Those not currently affiliated with the PLT, CalNat, or 4-H may be considered if space is available.