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Naturalist News

Master Naturalists put research into action around the state and in your backyard

A man and a woman stand in a boat holding long pole nets to capture stunned fish

What is a Master Naturalist?

We get that question a lot at University of Illinois Extension. Master Naturalists are many things: Advocates, volunteers, teachers, and environmental stewards.  

Around the state and in your backyard, these trained volunteers connect their communities with the natural world by contributing to scientific research, leading educational programs, and putting their unique skills and talents to use through conservation and restoration projects.

Last year, more than 880 Master Naturalists put in nearly 70,500 hours removing invasive species, monitoring the health of waterways, raising and releasing monarch butterflies, teaching youth about the environment, and investing in the future of our natural areas.

In 2023...

  • 886 Master Naturalists volunteered in Illinois
  • 148 people took the training and became Master Naturalists
  • 73,035 hours were volunteered.

The Illinois Extension Master Naturalist program leverages the expertise of university scientists and environmental partners to train adult volunteers to be environmental advocates. Our goal is to empower nature enthusiasts and help them put research into action wherever they live.

The cover of the 2023 Impact report

What does being a Master Naturalist look like?

Below are a few examples of the projects Master Naturalists are involved in. Explore more about how we’re putting knowledge to work in the 2023 Impact Report.

Read the 2023 Impact Report


Discovery of remnant prairie leads to educational outreach and conservation

In 2018, three Master Naturalists from Carroll, Lee, and Whiteside counties were exploring natural areas at the Lake Carroll Association community when they stumbled upon remnant prairie patches. Now, the association has more than 35 acres of native areas, a one-acre demonstration prairie, a pollinator garden, a new wetland filtering water before it enters the lake, expanded hiking trails, and so much more.


A walk in the woods transforms fourth graders’ relationship with nature

Kids ‘n Nature Adventure is a unique immersive afterschool and summer program partnership between the Illinois Extension Will County Master Naturalists, Joliet District 86 Grade Schools, and the Joliet Park District. The program gives 200 fourth-grade students from six underserved schools a chance to experience the natural world. The program began in 2005 and more than 2,000 youth have participated.


Repurposed feed and seed bags support pollinator project

Bird seed and pet food bags need to be sturdy, so they are often made from woven polypropylene plastic. This also makes them difficult to recycle, so like many other single-use plastics, they often end up in landfills. Master Naturalist Mona Maas has saved more than 300 bags from this fate by turning them into hand-sewn totes. These rugged recycled totes also have the added bonus of being a fundraiser to support a local pollinator garden.


Interested in becoming a Master Naturalist?

Learn how you can be a positive force for change by becoming an Illinois Extension Master Naturalist.


About the Blog

Naturalist News is a blog by University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist staff and volunteers who bring you stories highlighting the individuals, places, wildlife and plants that make this state amazing. Join us each week to learn something new, be inspired and become connected to your own community by recognizing the amazing ways we are all intertwined.

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About the Author

Emily Steele is a marketing communications manager on the Illinois Extension communications team and supports projects for natural resources, environment, and energy staff statewide including the Master Naturalist program, weather and climate, forestry, invasives, and nutrient loss reduction. She has a M.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences from University of Illinois and a B.A. in Journalism from Eastern Illinois University.