This innovative new coursework introduces students to the wonders of the area’s unique ecology and engages volunteers in the stewardship of our natural communities. The program combines science curriculum, hands-on learning, problem-solving, and community service to instill a deep appreciation and understanding of the natural environment of California and to inspire individuals to become guardians of their local resources.

About the Program

There are Master Naturalist programs in 26 other states, but this is the first such program in California. Created in 2011 and managed by the University of California Cooperative Extension, this is the first such program for the State of California. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden was chosen as one of just five pilot sites throughout the state and is the only location to offer this program on the Central Coast. The course is conducted in collaboration with several local partners including Sedgwick Reserve, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Arroyo Hondo, Lake Cachuma, and UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER). These organizations create a comprehensive platform for learning about natural history and ecology which serves as a shared experience for docents and volunteers for all of the organizations. The goal of this education is to foster a committed corps of volunteer naturalists and citizen scientists trained and ready to take an active role in natural resource conservation, education, and restoration. This program provides an overview of California‘s diverse ecology through a well-written and accessible workbook, as well as with more in-depth study of the ecology of the Central Coast through lectures and field trips. The course is an excellent introduction to becoming a citizen scientist, an amateur naturalist, or just an informed and enthusiastic hiker. Additional online components such as iNaturalist and the state website ( support Santa Barbara Naturalists as they become connected with other graduates from around the state.

The next 10-week training session will be held on Saturdays beginning February 2nd from 2 – 5pm in the Garden’s Blaksley Library. The program cost is $150 for prospective SBBG docents or $300 others. Applications and reservations are available at or by calling 805 682-4726 x 102.

“The response to the California Naturalist training has been tremendous and the participants have enthusiastically embraced their new Naturalist volunteer roles to help make our community a better place to live and grow,” said Judy Sanregret, Program Coordinator and SBBG’s Director of Education. “We are looking forward to offering the program for years to come.”

Many of the graduates will complete their volunteer work at the Botanic Garden. This ten-week course – with 3 weeks of supplementary training specific to SBBG – will form the foundation of future docent training here at the Garden. This training course begins with becoming a certified UCCE California Naturalist, taught by SBBG staff and local experts, and then adds an additional Docent Education Program which provides all the necessary information for conducting tours and includes mentoring from experienced Docents.

About the Graduates

Thirty-two Santa Barbara-area students graduated from the 10-week pilot training at SBBG this past winter. The course was divided into sessions focusing on state and local geology, geography, water, energy, plants, ecosystems, wildlife, and environmental challenges, and was taught by local scientists and experts. Certified volunteers completed 40 hours of combined classroom and field training, along with a recommended 40 hours of volunteer service to the local community, in the following areas:

• Scientific research—plant identification or data collection;

• Environmental monitoring—bird counts, stream sampling, invasive species monitoring;

• Restoration or conservation projects—seed collection, native plant propagation, and planting;

• Education—docent volunteers, developing signs or brochures, leading nature hikes, making science more accessible to others through support of the Naturalist Program, or other community outreach activities.

Many of the graduates will become Docents at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, or partner organizations. Here are some comments from the first class:

“I think the program has been fantastic – not just the classes but the independent project and the volunteerism requirement.” ~ Kate McCurdy, Manager of Sedgwick Reserve.

“I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the Naturalist program and appreciate all the effort that went into it by you, your staff, and the guest speakers.” ~ Donna Small, graduate

“There was such energy and enthusiasm from class members. My fellow students came from many different backgrounds, professions, organizations and interests that each class was dynamic with questions and conversations.” ~ Susan Mohun.

“This program had a spirited group of dedicated, like-minded participants with diverse backgrounds – all sharing a deep interest in the environment. The Capstone Projects (final presentations by participants), on a wide range of topics, presented by each individual were so impressive! And the field trips to several local nature reserves provided a great hands-on learning experience.” ~ Ann Brinker, SBBG docent

The pilot class was supported by a grant from Montecito Bank and Trust, along with environmental education partner organizations including the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Arroyo Hondo Preserve, Sedgwick Reserve, CCBER at UCSB, Channelkeepers, the Carpinteria Salt Marsh, and others. Program fees include the Handbook published by UC Press are reduced for current and future SBBG volunteers. Students complete and present a simple capstone project to bridge the learning from the class into the field at the end of the program.

To arrange interviews with recent graduates and SBBG’s Director of Education, Judy Sanregret, or to request high-resolution photos, please contact Joni Kelly, Communications Manager, at 805-682-4726 ext. 132 or via cell at 805-886-1869.


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