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Virginia Master Naturalists are volunteer educators, citizen scientists, and stewards helping Virginia conserve and manage natural resources and public lands.
Virginia Master Naturalists continued to increase their service again in 2017 for the benefit of Virginia's natural resources!
Download our 2017 infographic as a PDF
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Each season, we recognize VMN achievements in the Laurels section of our newsletter. This time, there are LOTS of achievements to note. They are not in any particular order, so please read them all...you never know which volunteer/project/award is going to inspire you!
Four More VMNs Reach 5,000 Hours
Only a handful of Virginia Master Naturalist volunteers have reached the milestone of 5,000 hours of service. To get a sense for just how much service that is, keep in mind that a full-time (40 hours per week) job is about 2,080 hours per year. Reaching 5,000 hours of service is like putting in more than 2 years' worth of full-time work! Congratulations to Cheryl, Jack, Jim, and John for their recent achievements of this milestone. They join Susan Powell (VMN-Historic Rivers Chapter), Marion Childress (VMN-Tidewater Chapter), and Thomas Adkins (former VMN-Shenandoah Chapter member) in that select 5,000 hour group!
From Judy Jones, President of the VMN-Historic Rivers Chapter
In only six years, Cheryl Jacobson of the Historic Rivers Chapter has reached the
5000-hour milestone and our chapter couldn’t be more proud or pleased. Cheryl has given so much to us and our community through her efforts and has been a wonderful representative of Historic Rivers Chapter, serving on the board for four years, on the Basic Training committee for four years, on the board, leading the Osprey Watch project for our Chapter, and working in a myriad of educational, stewardship, and citizen science projects too numerous to list. Well done, Cheryl, and congratulations! We’re so proud of you!
From Gail Swift, President of the VMN-Old Rag Chapter
Jack Price, a founding member of Old Rag Master Naturalists, CLASS I, has achieved the incredible award level of 5000 hours, a rarity among VMNs. Jack has devoted so many years of his life to conservation and ORMN, we should not be surprised at this achievement. He volunteers innumerable hours at Shenandoah National Park, helps to develop new projects such as the Yowell Park initiative in Culpeper, and most importantly is very involved as an instructor with ORMN’s training programs. He is well known as a lecturer on native plants and invasives.
From the New River Valley Chapter
We recognized John Ford not too long ago for being the volunteer who completed and reported the most service hours in 2015. That year, he completed and reported 995 hours of Virginia Master Naturalist volunteer service. He has kept up that volunteer energy, and he has now achieved our 5,000 service hour milestone. Among his activities are helping remove invasive plants from Stadium Woods and the Huckleberry Trail in Blacksburg and assisting with chapter administration. But, where he really spends his time was volunteering in the Virginia Tech Herbarium. In fact, he goes in to the Massey Herbarium three mornings a week! Among other projects, he has played a huge role in getting thousands of records added to the specimen database.
From the Central Rappahannock Chapter
Jim Scibek, a long-time member of the VMN-Central Rappahannock Chapter, surpassed 5,000 hours of service in 2017. Jim is an enthusiastic environmental educator and contributes many of his hours getting visitors excited about nature at the Mott's Run Nature Center in Fredericksburg. He also gives presentations on nature topics to youth groups and at events such Farm Field Days and Earth Day. On top of all that, Jim organizes the chapter's basic training course and has served as the chapter president for many years.
VMN Volunteer Receives Wildlife Award
By Gail Swift, President of the VMN-Old Rag Chapter
The Culpeper Soil & Water Conservation District’s 2017 Wildlife Award was given to Dana Squire of Old Rag Master Naturalists. From 2012 to 2013 Dana worked with various government agencies to turn her entire backyard – about 4.5 acres – into a wildflower meadow. From bees to butterflies and a great variety of songbirds, truly the wildlife has benefited greatly. Dana has had to commit herself to doing prescribed burning with the Virginia Department of Forestry to keep the meadow in shape and has done invasive species control through the Blue Ridge PRISM project. In addition to Old Rag Master Naturalists, where she oversees the VMN reporting system, is an ex officio member of the board, and volunteers in so many projects such as Old Rag Restoration, Dana is also heavily involved with the Virginia Working Landscapes (VWL) program of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Dana was a part of the first cohort of citizen scientists trained and deployed by Smithsonian scientists to conduct biodiversity surveys on private lands throughout the VWL region in 2010. Rather than limiting herself to a single survey type, as many citizen scientists do, Dana has participated in grassland bird, plant and pollinator surveys over her 7-year commitment to the program.
Arlington Earns Award for Restoring Globally Rare Ecosystem
By Kasha Helget, VMN-Arlington Regional Chapter
In October 2017, the Virginia Recreation and Park Society honored Arlington County’s Magnolia Bog restoration project as the Best New Environmental Sustainability Award in 2016 (https://newsroom.arlingtonva.us/release/arlington-earns-award-for-restoring-globally-rare-ecosystem/). This award recognizes a 5-year restoration plan that began in 2011 and partnered County’s Department of Parks and Recreation staff with volunteer groups, including Arlington Regional Master Naturalists (ARMN), Earth Sangha, Virginia Native Plant Society and others. The 25-acre magnolia bog is located in Barcroft Park in south Arlington and is one of only two-dozen such bogs known in the world and particularly rare and fragile in an urban landscape. The bog gets its name from the sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) that grow there.
“This is a real success story for our County,” said Jane Rudolph, director of Parks and Recreation for the County. “The bog is home to wetlands, natural forest and more locally rare plants than any other site in the County. With the help of dedicated volunteers and partners we hope it will be here for generations of Arlingtonians.”
The County staff, ARMN volunteers, and others inventoried the bog’s plants, uprooted invasive plants, built a vernal pool, and planted native plants. They found about a dozen types of plants that grow nowhere else in Arlington. Today, the bog and its surrounding buffer are nearly 90-percent free of invasive plants. Long-lost animals and plants are returning. New colonies of spring peepers, wood frogs, gray fox, yellow-crowned night herons, and little wood satyr butterflies, as well as uncommon plants such as dwarf ginseng, bloodroot, and wood anemone, are expanding their range inside of Barcroft Park. Long-term success will be measured through periodic plant and animal surveys.
The Magnolia Bog Restoration Project was also honored with a 2016 Achievement Award by the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo). VACo described this innovative program “as a model for natural resource management in urban areas by highlighting opportunities to incorporate community groups in environmental stewardship activities.”
The full story of the magnolia bog project is featured in: https://armn.org/2016/09/22/barcroft-magnolia-bog-restoration-project-receives-2016-achievement-award/.
Superlative Virginia Master Naturalists of the Merrimac Farm Chapter
By Lisa Matthews (VMN-Merrimac Farm Chapter)
The VMN-Merrimac Farm Chapter (based in Prince William County) has been growing and getting more active! They recently recognized many of their volunteers for noteworthy...or, in some cases, notorious...achievements!
A Biologist in Paradise
By Shirley Devan and Roger Gosden (VMN-Historic Rivers Chapter)
Historic Rivers Chapter Master Naturalist Roger Gosden published “A Biologist in Paradise: Musings on Nature and Science” in December 2017. Roger turned to full time writing after a career in reproductive science and became a Master Naturalist in Williamsburg, VA in 2010. He writes about things he knows and cares about in forty essays and memoirs, touching on the environment, food, culture, curiosity, and sustainability concerns.
Many of the essays are about naturalists and care of the environment. The first essay is titled “The Heart of a Naturalist.” One chapter features Clyde Marsteller's zoo (with his permission) and two VMN volunteers kindly donated pictures. This is the first of two volumes, so there’s more to come.
Headwaters Chapter Helps Community Market Receive Virginia Green Travel Award
By Adrie Voors, VMN-Headwaters Chapter
The Harrisonburg Farmers Market managers have attributed our Market Compost Drop-off program with their receiving a Virginia Green Travel Award as indicated in the newsletter under "Proudly Green" below, dated December 1, 2017. This project is coordinated by Adrie Voors (VMN-Headwaters Chapter) and Art Fovargue (another dedicated community member), and is a Headwaters Master Naturalists' project which collaborates with the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV), a local small not-for-profit which lets us use their website and treasury. To date, seven Headwaters Chapter members have participated in the project.
Started in March of 2016, we've collected an average of 7 tons of household organic waste each of the last two years which would have otherwise ended up in landfills. Our collections are picked up and composted by Black Bear Composting in Crimora. At our weekly Market station each Saturday from April-October, in addition to collecting compostable household organics and Market generated compostable serviceware, we give out compostable bags to collect in, and educate about the wonders of composting and all the ways it benefits our environment. A similar program in Charlottesville that involves some volunteers of the VMN-Rivanna Chapter, was the inspiration for the Harrisonburg program.
Besides CAAV, the Harrisonburg Farmers Market, and Black Bear Composting, other partners include or have included the City of Harrisonburg Public Works, the Harrisonburg Voluntary Gas Tax group, and Keep Virginia Beautiful.
This year we are hoping to sponsor a "zero waste" day at the Market for Earth Day on Saturday, April 21 with compostable serviceware provided to vendors and short zero waste demos.
More here: https://climateactionallianceofthevalley.org/composting/
and here: https://headwatersmn.org/2016/11/03/market-compost-drop-off-project-update/
Roanoke Valley Master Naturalists Investigate Snails and Millipedes
By George Devlin, Chapter Advisor of VMN-Roanoke Valley Chapter
Several Roanoke Chapter VMN members received thanks from the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway for their citizen science efforts last summer on the Land Snail and Millipede Transect study which was coordinated by the National Park Service. Land snails are important environmental indicators and predictors of biodiversity, yet they are understudied and poorly understood. Land snails and millipedes also play a major role in the decomposition of leaf litter and other organic matter in forests. Their decaying bodies and feces are a large source of the nitrogen in forest soils and their shells are an important source of calcium that breeding songbirds need for egg production. Many thanks to Bill and Nancy Fabian, David and Lynn Williamson and Laurie and Scott Spangler for collecting and recording survey data from transects along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Roanoke area.
An Award and an Article from the VMN-Shenandoah Chapter
The VMN-Shenandoah Chapter presented a Volunteer of the Year award to Alex Newhart. The most eloquent nomination, submitted by Laure Wallace, was read to the chapter members.
"This nomination recognizes the selfless and substantial administrative contributions made by Alex Newhart that provide the framework for our chapter’s effective scientific research, stewardship and educational outreach.
Alex joined the Virginia Master Naturalists in 2013 taking his basic training in the Spring of that year. One year later, Alex was running the basic training program, which he has now done for the last 4 years. With full classes each year, Alex has worked tirelessly to incorporate new ideas, focus on the best pedagogy for adult learners, engage exciting new speakers, and tip the balance of training programs towards experiential learning in the field. With yearly rave reviews for the training programs, Alex has been able to attract, train, and certify a growing cadre of new Virginia Master Naturalists, swelling the roster of active volunteers. But for Alex it did not stop there. Alex saw the need for professionalizing the chapter leadership. As president for the last three years, Alex has created a strategic plan that is redefining the actions and outcomes of chapter committees, focusing on improving the vitality of the chapter and ensuring that our volunteers and volunteer organizations are well served by the leadership of the Shenandoah Chapter. Alex is servant leadership in action.
In 2017 Alex again stepped in to serve not only the Shenandoah Chapter, but the State Offices and all of his colleagues state-wide. Under Alex’s leadership the chapter hosted the 2017 statewide VMN conference. Working with a dynamic committee, Alex worked tirelessly to building a vibrant program of field trips, technical sessions and social activities. His vision and leadership were the foundations of the 2017 conference programs.
While Alex has spent so much of his time leading the chapter, he is also extremely active in a host of other volunteer activities: in vernal pools research, reptile studies, Blandy educational programs, and the Working Landscapes Project, to name just a few. And of course, he shines in these roles as well. While working with the Working Landscapes Project, Alex trapped a Rusty Patched Bumblebee, an endangered bee thought to be extinct in the area. This created quite a buzz in the scientific community and brought attention to the research performed by VMN volunteers. Alex’s scientific contributions and his administrative leadership exemplify what it means to be a Virginia Master Naturalist volunteer in service to our natural resources through science, education and stewardship.
An article by Shenandoah Chapter member Margaret Wester, titled "Successful Mixed Species Nesting", was published in the Virginia Bluebird Society's Fall 2017 newsletter.
The full article can be found here.
Historic Rivers Master Naturalists Hit the Big 100,000
The Historic Rivers Chapter just passed 100,000 volunteer hours as a group, counting from the founding of the chapter. They logged in approximately 1,000 hours per month in 2017 to reach their goal!
Catch the King Tide Flood Mapping Event
By Karen Duhring, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Several VMN volunteers from coastal chapters participated in a citizen science crowdsourcing event called ‘Catch the King Tide’ on November 5, 2017. King tides are the very highest tides predicted to occur each year based on the positions of the earth, sun and moon and their gravitational effects. Coastal communities around the nation have launched projects to document how high the king tides rise as they prepare for the effects of sea level rise.
Today’s king tides are expected to be the normal, everyday tide levels as the sea level rises over the next few decades. Mapping the extent of today’s king tides will help coastal residents understand which community areas are the most vulnerable to more frequent tidal flooding. Many neighborhoods already experience frequent ‘nuisance flooding’ when cars have to be moved from driveways and normal traffic routes must be altered to avoid flooded roads.
VIMS and Old Dominion University scientists are working with emergency managers and other partners to build models that predict flood levels as real storms approach. These models are based on topography data obtained from air-borne radar equipment that sometimes misses tidal creeks and waterways flowing underneath the tree canopy or through culverts under roads. The predictive models can be improved with more accurate locations of tidal flooding to then understand how tidal flooding interacts with heavy wind and rain during storms.
The Catch the King Tide crowdsourcing data collection event was organized to map the location of tidal flooding during this extreme high tide event simultaneously across the Hampton Roads region from Gloucester County to Virginia Beach. Over 600 volunteer citizen scientists participated, including 25 VMN volunteers from 3 chapters (Tidewater, Peninsula, Historic Rivers). They received some basic training and used a special Sea Level Rise app on their smartphones to collect GPS points as they walked along the high tide line. Some of the VMN volunteers also served as Tide Captains to coordinate regional and neighborhood groups.
If you want to join this citizen science project, you can download the Sea Level Rise app from the Sea Rising Solutions web site. Learn more about ongoing and upcoming mapping events from the Catch the King Tide Facebook page and a VIMS interactive story map. The Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency web site has additional general information about tidal flooding, sea level rise, and what Virginia’s coastal communities are doing to adapt to these challenges.
Upcoming Urban Forestry and Related Continuing Education Opportunities
One of our VMN program funders this year is the Virginia Department of Forestry, via an Urban and Community Forestry grant, which comes from federal funds from the US Forest Service. As part of our grant activities, we are working to share more opportunities for VMN volunteers to learn about urban and community forestry topics. Here are some events from our sponsors and partners coming up this spring that can help you learn about the importance of urban forests, how to manage urban forests and small acreage forests, and more.
Virginia Woods and Wildlife Conference
This all day conference is not specifically focused on urban forests, but it is for owners of either large or small tracts of land. It is a one stop/first stop for individuals, families, and managers to learn about woods, wildlife, and other natural resources. It provides multiple links to information, sources of assistance and a better understanding of the natural resources around you. It will explore a myriad of forest issues relevant to owners of woodland.
February 24, 2018, 8:30 am -4:30 pm, Germanna Community College, Culpeper. Registration deadline is February 14!
More information and registration
Roanoke Tree Health Care Workshop
Topics at this event include managing old trees, tree planting, community engagement for preserving trees and understand tree root system.
March 7, 2018, 8:00 am - 4:00 pm, Virginia Western Community College, Roanoke.
More information and registration
Northern Virginia Urban Forestry Roundtable
How Do We Know Trees We've Planted Are Surviving and Thriving? In addition to local knowledge, experience and connections (i.e., the heart of the Roundtable), this event will also feature a guest who has studied this issue extensively. Lara Roman, PhD, US Forest Service Research Ecologist will present studies of how other jurisdictions throughout the nation deal with limited staffing and budgets to monitor their trees survival and growth.
March 15, 2018, 9:30 am - 2:00 pm, Wetlands Studies and Solutions LLC, Gainesville.
More information and registration
Woodland Options for Landowners
This is a twelve-week self-paced online course that begins Monday, February 12 and ends April 30, 2018. The course objective is to provide an introductory level understanding of basic forest management principles and techniques and to help participants use this understanding to become better land stewards. While not focused on urban forests or small acreage solely, the course is open to landowners of any acreage as well as interested citizens and volunteers.
More information and registration
The Woods in Your Backyard
Registration is now open for the Spring session of "The Woods in Your Backyard" online course. This self-paced, non-credit course runs 10 weeks from March 7th to May 20th, 2018. The course will help landowners convert lawn to natural areas and enhance stewardship of existing natural areas. Based on the guide of the same name, the course provides strategies to landowners of small parcels of land (1-10 acres) that improve the stewardship of their property for personal enjoyment and environmental quality. It uses a hands-on learning approach to help participants develop and implement a plan for their property. Activities include how to map habitat areas, understand basic ecological principles about woodland and wildlife, choose and implement a few habitat management projects, and how to set a timetable and record your progress. Online discussion groups will allow participants to interact with others taking the course. A certificate of completion is awarded when all assignments are completed.
More information and registration
By Rich Brager, VMN-Blue Ridge Foothills and Lakes Chapter
The Blue Ridge Foothills and Lakes Chapter (BRFAL) of the Virginia Master Naturalists is extremely lucky to have our own Tsar. Who is it and how can it be? He is Guy Buford and he is 87 years old and still an active and certified Virginia Master Naturalist. I believe he may be the oldest VMN in the state. If you know differently, please let us know.
So how did Guy become our Tsar? Jean Borgman, who is one of our early BRFAL members, recounts the story as follows:
“One of the things I remember is from when the chapter was forming. The Local Coordinating Committee (that's what you’re called when you start a chapter) had many meetings and tasks to perform. Guy became our leader in the process. He was wonderful at leading the numerous discussions and keeping us on task. As the time came for us to move on to chapter status we were coming up with people to fill the positions in the new group. Guy said we should find a president when Carl said we weren't going to let Guy leave and that he would be "Tsar for life". In fact the group unanimously approved Guy as Tsar and as you know he did become our first president.”
Over his years as BRFAL member Guy has accumulated nearly 1400 project hours and almost 200 advanced training hours. In 2017 he has over 55 project hours and 9 advanced training hours. Not bad for someone 87 years young.
My favorite anecdote about Guy is way back when he was only 83 or so. The BRFAL group went on a hike at the DeHart Botanical Gardens. Don’t let the name botanical garden fool you. This is a beautiful but rugged setting that starts at the top. Then you hike down, down, down to a waterfall and then back up, up, up. Near the bottom I could tell that Guy was getting a little wobbly, so we stopped for some electrolytes and a short break. Guy was carrying a small backpack and since I only had a fanny pack, I offered to carry Guy’s pack for the journey upward, which I did. The hike upward seemed never ending, but Guy never missed a beat on the way up. I was then known as Guy's porter! My wife Meg remembers that she was ready to drop in her tracks on the hike but was too embarrassed to do so since Guy could keep going.
Although Guy recently lost his wonderful wife Margaret, he remains active with us, attending meetings and doing project work, as you can see in these photos. Guy is truly an inspiration to us all and remains as our BRFAL Tsar.
"Digitizing Virginia’s Herbaria for Research and Education" celebrates successful first year with Virginia Master Naturalists
By Andrea Weeks, Associate Professor and Director of the Ted R. Bradley Herbarium, George Mason University
In Fall 2016, a new online volunteer opportunity for the Virginia Master Naturalists was launched in a webinar entitled, "Digitizing Virginia’s Herbaria for Research and Education". The goal of this volunteer project is to transcribe label information from high-resolution images of Virginian herbarium specimens into an online database. These pressed and dried specimens of native plant species are currently held in cabinets at research institutions around the Commonwealth and they document our flora from the early 1800s to the present day. As the online database grows, it is shared freely with the public and scientists (www.sernecportal.org) to improve our understanding of Virginia’s flora through space and time.
We are very grateful to report that since its inception, "Digitizing Virginia’s Herbaria for Research and Education" has been adopted by 11 VMN chapters and received over 460 hours of volunteer support. It has proved to be particularly popular during the cold winter months when opportunities for volunteering out-of-doors may be more limited. In total, over 17,000 separate herbarium specimens have been fully transcribed and entered into the online database. What is remarkable about this large number of transcriptions is that approximately 11,500 of them were created by a cohort of fewer than 40 VMN volunteers!
We want to thank all the VMN volunteers who have lent a few minutes or many hours to this endeavor. We are making substantial progress on a large task with your support. As of the writing of this post in late January, our current collection of specimens to be transcribed is nearing completion (Wetland Plants of Virginia) and we are cueing up the next batch of 5,000 specimens for debut by mid-February (Pollinator Plants of Virginia II). If you’d like to join the online fun, we encourage you to check out the archived webinar. Along with the webinar, we have a project proposal form for the project and instructions for doing the transcriptions.