Thursday, May 31, 2007

Master Naturalists Volunteer for Conservation

Master Naturalists Volunteer for Conservation

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In his day job, Doug Mills helps University of Illinois instructors make good use of computers and the World Wide Web in their teaching. At home, he’s a husband and father who is heavily involved in the lives of his children, with the soccer games, swim meets and youth group activities that entails.

But on certain evenings this Spring, Doug has been listening to the call of the wild. Well, the mating calls of frogs and toads, actually.

You see, in addition to his family and work, Doug is keenly interested in the natural world. And in the past year he has found a way to pursue that interest through the East Central Illinois Master Naturalist Program.

Sponsored cooperatively by University of Illinois Extension, the Urbana Park District, and the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, the Master Naturalist Program aims to educate a corps of volunteers to provide support for the conservation, management, and interpretation of natural resources in our area.

Doug Mills was among the participants in the first Master Naturalist training course, which was conducted last Fall. From early on, he knew that he wanted to devote his volunteer hours to conservation efforts involving reptiles and amphibians.

In cooperation with Dan Olson, Director of Natural Resources for the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, Doug initiated frog call surveys to establish some baseline data about the frogs and toads that inhabit Forest Preserve sites. Such surveys are a standard method for gathering information about these critters, since they can be difficult to see, but are readily identified by their vocalizations during the mating season. [See Doug's frog blog at]

Doug is conducting his surveys at the Homer Lake and River Bend County Forest Preserves. So far he has visited each site twice and has plans to return three more times.

He begins listening at about sunset, walking a predetermined circuit and recording information about the numbers and species of frogs and toads he hears. So far he has found two species of toads and five species of frogs, including grey treefrogs, which are of particular interest because they seem to be declining in central Illinois.

Beyond establishing a baseline for future investigations, the information about frogs and toads provided by Doug’s surveys will also help the Forest Preserve District gauge the quality of the sites it maintains, since the presence or absence of frogs is an indicator of ecosystem health.

Now, having said so much about frog call surveys, I should emphasize that most of the people who participated in last Fall’s Master Naturalist training have not been tramping around after dark listening to amorous amphibians.

Some have become trail stewards with the Forest Preserve District, while others have volunteered for workdays at Urbana Park District sites. Many have also assisted with the Grand Prairie Friends Spring plant sales, as well as volunteering for stream clean-ups, prairie burns, and numerous other conservation efforts.

If you would like to explore the possibility of becoming a Master Naturalist yourself you can learn more about the program by contacting University of Illinois Extension’s Champaign County office. Applications for Fall 2007 training are available via their website [click here] or by phone (217.333.7672), and are being accepted through July 27.