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New climate change specialist strengthens Illinois’ commitment to environmental stewardship

URBANA, Ill. – Doing the right thing for the environment isn’t always clear. What’s the best way to reduce home energy costs? How can you manage a farm with changing weather patterns? When is the best time to remove invasive species? The University of Illinois Extension team of natural resource experts makes the choice easy by connecting communities around the state with research-based tools and best practices because small changes at the local level can have a big impact on the environment.

In March, Illinois Extension welcomed Duane Friend to serve in a new role as State Master Naturalist and Climate Change Specialist. Friend will provide statewide leadership for the Illinois Master Naturalists and Climate Stewards programs.

“This position, with a combined focus on strengthening Master Naturalist and Climate Stewards programs, will help address statewide natural resource and climate-related issues, and enhance the resilience of local communities and ecosystems,” says Shibu Kar, assistant dean and Natural Resources, Environment, and Energy program leader.

For almost 30 years, Friend has worked at Illinois Extension providing information and educational programs to adult and youth audiences about soil quality, weather and climate, energy conservation, and disaster preparedness. In his new role, he will work to understand what climate change programs are being offered and what resources the people of Illinois need.

“Many University of Illinois researchers are studying climate change,” Friend says. “Extension’s mission, as it has always been, is to take this research and turn it into local programming that will benefit the citizens of Illinois.”

Friend will also coordinate the statewide Illinois Master Naturalist program which connects people with nature and trains adult volunteers so they can become engaged environmental stewards.

“The program is very focused on in-person, hands-on learning and will remain that way,” Friend says. “However, we will also look at other potential options such as combinations of online and outdoor classes that may allow more people to join the program.”

Friend worked at Illinois Extension since 1993. Most recently he served as an Environmental and Energy Stewardship educator in Calhoun, Cass, Greene, Morgan and Scott counties since 2011. Prior to that, Friend was a Natural Resources Management Extension Educator, a County Executive Director for the Farm Services Agency and a Soil and Water Conservation District resource conservationist.

He is a member of the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) and served as president of the Illinois chapter in 1998 and 2017. He is also a member of the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals (ANREP).

Friend is based in the Jacksonville Extension office and can be reached at or (217) 243-7424.

Forestry Extension and Research Specialist Christopher Evans served as interim State Master Naturalist Coordinator while the position was being filled.

Through learning partnerships that extend knowledge and change lives, University of Illinois Extension educators and specialists connect every county in Illinois with university research through in-person and distance-learning programming. They provide educational outreach and practical tools to solve problems and make life better, healthier, safer, and more profitable for businesses, families, and communities across Illinois.

WRITEREmily Steele, Media Communications Coordinator, Illinois Extension

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions.