The Texas Master Naturalist program (TXMN) was created in 1997 opening its first chapter in San Antonio, Texas. The Texas Master Naturalist program is designed to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers who provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities for the State of Texas. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension serve as sponsors for the program.
Today, the TXMN program has 42 chapters, covers 200 counties and has over 8,850 trained volunteers. Master Naturalist chapters train new volunteers on a yearly basis. Qualifications to become a certified master naturalist include receiving 40 hours of classroom instruction, 8 hours of approved advanced training classes on specific naturalist topics and 40 hours of volunteer service. Certification is required yearly with 8 hours of advanced training and 40 hours of volunteer service.
The Lee College horticulture class at the Ellis Unit is currently contributing to the TXMN conservation effort by growing and propagating American water willows which are planted yearly in Lake Livingston as part of a major conservation project to revitalize Lake Livingston – the Lake Livingston Friends of Reservoirs project. This project has numerous sponsors including the master naturalist chapters in Livingston and Conroe, Texas.
Students in the Ellis Unit horticulture program had been exposed to the Master Naturalist program through participation in the water willow propagation effort, and requested training and certification as part of their learning process.
This request and idea was taken to the state master naturalist leadership for consideration and approval. Given that the circumstances of instruction are unique and located inside the prison unit, the state leadership gave a positive response but proposed a new certificate process that fit with the circumstances.
The TDC Ellis Unit (prison) master naturalist training was the first ever performed in TXMN history. It was considered a “pilot” project whose results were presented at the annual Master Naturalist conference in October 2017 in Corpus Christi, Tx. The participating inmates produced a video of their efforts and entered it into the video contest. It won first place and received a $500 award which was donated to the Lake Livingston Friends of Reservoir project.
Today, the Ellis Unit remains a key component of the Lake Livingston Friends of Reservoir project performing research on aquatic plant propagation as well as propagation of numerous plant species for transfer to local high schools for further growth and subsequent introduction into the lake.