A colleague recently posed a rhetorical question, “Why do we need naturalists?” It gets to the question, “Why is the UC California Naturalist program important?” a question we don't often ask ourselves or contemplate in part because its value is such an integral part of who we are, it's ingrained and deeply-held, and we don't often stop to fully articulate an answer. While it is easy to describe what we do and why that is important to us and the nearly 4000 certified California Naturalists in our community, it is a much bigger challenge to present a cogent and memorable case that resonates with those outside of the field.
As a starting point, here are just a few examples, ranging from the pragmatic to the personal, of why we need California Naturalists.
Without the California Naturalists . . .
- fewer people, in a new era of extinction, would understand the value of (intrinsic or otherwise) of our state's threatened biodiversity
- fewer observations, data points and discoveries would be made of the natural world to help us measure our impacts on it.
- fewer people would have the opportunity to build a positive identity with science or recognize the value of more holistic ways of thinking such as traditional ecological knowledge.
- fewer people would engage in environmental stewardship behaviors ranging from resource conservation to building resilience among vulnerable communities.
- fewer people would access, experience, and value the unique cultural and natural resources that our state's public lands offer.
- fewer people would volunteer to support the hundreds of organizations managing public or conservation areas, educating the public, and monitoring environmental change.
- fewer people would experience the joy, inspiration, discovery, camaraderie, and transformational learning that comes from taking a California Naturalist course.
- fewer people would enjoy the benefits of improved personal health and well-being derived from spending time in nature.
- fewer people would recognize the importance of the natural capital that our environment represents in the form of ecosystem services that sustain our economy and our spirits.
- fewer people would recognize the need to build the resilience necessary for our communities and ecosystems to not only survive but thrive in an changing climate.
We need naturalists for all these reasons and more.
There is a saying. “The frog in the well will never know the immensity of the sky.” The UC California Naturalist program broadens our horizons. It inspires people to engage in stewardship behaviors that make our home a better place to live and our communities more resilient to changes we face. We need California Naturalists because just as these challenges are the result of the cumulative impact of millions of people their solutions exist in the cumulative actions of people. More than anything else, the UC California Naturalist program builds a shared understanding, capacity, identity, and values that help us move in the same direction toward a common goal.