Swaner turns out Master Naturalists every summer | ParkRecord.com

Swaner turns out Master Naturalists every summer

A Master Naturalist class explores one of the ponds on the Swaner Preserve. Participants learn about the plants and animals that make up the 1,200-acre watershed ecosystem. (Courtesy of the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter)

Five years ago, the Swaner EcoCenter staff began looking for ways to get adults interested in conservation and out onto the 1,200 acre preserve. It partnered with Utah State University Extension Assistant Professor Mark Larese-Casanova to offer a Utah Master Naturalist program.

"I have a couple of partners that have offered the courses for several years," said Larese-Casanova said during an interview with The Park Record. "The Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter is one of the oldest at five years and Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City has taught the courses for eight or nine years, now."

The program, which will run this year from June 27 to July 1, was created out of necessity, he said.

"We noticed that many nature organizations, such as the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter, largely focus their efforts on field-trip programs or summer camps for school kids," Larese-Casanova explained. "However, we noticed that these organizations lacked adult programming, and some had expressed interest in providing new adult-education programs, but didn’t have the resources to develop a curriculum."

He thought USU could help develop resources and curriculum for nature-based education programs that focuses on biomes and ecosystems in Utah.

"I developed three 40-hour courses that focus on watersheds, deserts and mountains," Larese-Casanova said. "In each of those programs, we teach the science of those ecosystems — everything from geology to climate, plant communities and plant and animal adaptations for living in these environments."

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The classes also focus on the connection of humans with these ecosystems throughout history.

"We look at everything all the way up to the present, including the conservation and management issues," he said. "We give hands-on experiences so people can contribute to conservation efforts.

"For example, on the Swaner Preserve, we may spend half the day on the wetlands learning about the Columbian spotted frog that was recently reintroduced to the area or talk about the restoring these wetlands that had historically been drained and grazed by herds of cattle," Larese-Casanova said. "The Swaner Preserve has been such a great partner because they are so active in conservation efforts."

While working with the Swaner Preserve, Larese-Casanova has seen many changes including the construction of the EcoCenter and having it gifted to Utah State University.

"It’s also great to see the vision of the Swaner family to create such an important and beautiful place in an area that has such a high demand for development," he said.

Nell Larson, executive director of the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter, said the Master Naturalist program always fills up, as it has this year.

"We offer this just once a year during the summer and the reason is because we often have teachers who want to take the course so they can take bits and pieces of what they learned back to their classroom," she said. "We open the registration several months in advance. It’s a small class, because that makes it easy for us to visit a variety of locations. It also ensure everyone gets the attention they need."

Larson enjoys offering the program because participants not only the small-scale elements such as plants, insects and birds, but also study how entire ecosystems and watersheds work.

"Although this sounds kind of intimidating, it isn’t," she said. "This class is open to everyone, no matter if you do or don’t have background in the environment."

Larese-Casanova enjoys working with Larson and Conservation Coordinator Brittany Ingalls, who co-teach the course.

"It is a great partnership," he said. "They both have a lot of knowledge and experience in land conservation, and they both contribute a lot to the course."

The Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter and Hogle Zoo aren’t the only organizations that have partnered with Larese-Casanova for the Master Naturalist program.

Others include Natural Connections in Logan Canyon, Stem-U Institute at Utah State University, Antelope Island State Park, Dead Horse Point State Park and Great Basin National Park in Nevada, he said.

"We offer courses throughout the state of Utah and if folks are interested in participating, there are still other openings in other classes," he said.

The Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter will host its Utah Master Naturalists program from Monday, June. 27, to Friday, July 1. This year’s session is full. For more information, visit http://www.swanerecocenter.org. Registration for other Utah Master Naturalist programs is being accepted online at extension.usu.edu/utahmasternaturalist.