As a professional ecologist and educator, I often think about the resurgence of nature in our local landscapes. Spending time in nature with the many mentors who have inspired and encouraged my involvement has always been the best learning experience in the world. Many patient hours have been spent in the field, developing detailed observation skills over many seasons. I’ve gained an invaluable education from knowledgeable ecologists such as June Keibler, Brad Semel, Bill Kleiman, and Stephen Packard who each have years of innovative field experience in ecological restoration. They have learned by trial and error to develop effective techniques for vegetation management that benefit wildlife habitat and promote whole ecosystem recovery, which is the lofty goal of ecological restoration. Other mentors in botany have taught me the local flora through many hours in the field comparing habitat and species composition in the various plant communities.
Other ways to learn might be a college degree, an internship, or simply volunteering in the nearby nature preserve… I have done all of the above and am still learning, that’s what makes science great fun! By applying science to restoration practices we can improve the adaptive management principles which are being developed in the region. These field applications are crucial to the steward looking for insights into the how’s, what’s, and when’s—and also the dos and don’ts of ecological restoration.
Why not blend as many of these ways of learning into one multimedia package to help reach local conservationists? The Morton Arboretum is doing just this by creating several newly developed classes that combine online, learn-at-your-own-pace digital modules and also the indispensable expert-in-the-field instructors who can identify plants and wildlife and lead discovery hikes combined with traditional classroom activities. This dynamic style of teaching allows widespread audiences to access interactive course materials from home computers or mobile devices.
The Woodland Stewardship Program is developing a comprehensive curriculum of about 30 classes, strengthening regional resources for ecological restoration education.
Nine classes are currently offered in blended learning format: Basic Plant ID, Identify Woodland Wildflowers, Intro to Ecological Restoration, Invasive Species I and II, ID and Ecology of Woodland Trees, Restoration & Wildlife, Volunteer Leadership, and Tools for Management. Reaching a broader audience with classes aimed at beginners as well as professionals will facilitate a regional knowledge building that benefits volunteers and staff for on the ground practitioners and administrators alike.
Often with a good foundation in plant science, or another group of study species such as wildlife, the ecologist can unravel the workings of an ecosystem and begin to understand function, structure, and composition in the myriad of living things. If you are interested in advancing your ecological education, please visit the current class listings to sign up for these new learning opportunities. Stewardship education has never been so easy!
—Will Overbeck, Woodland Stewardship Program Coordinator, Morton Arboretum