Cambrian: Opinion

Naturalist program in Cambria perfect for those with an interest in California nature

Mycologist Dennis Sheridan gives a presentation on decomposition.
Mycologist Dennis Sheridan gives a presentation on decomposition. Courtesy Photo

Many people in SLO County are familiar with the Master Gardener Program. It is offered through UC Extension and is a comprehensive introduction to gardening and ecosystem dynamics.

Master Naturalist Programs are similar to the Master Gardener Program. Master Naturalists are trained to be stewards of the natural environment and to teach environmental stewardship to others. Almost every state in the U.S. has a Master Naturalist Program. In California, it’s called California Naturalist (or CalNat for short); the statewide program is coordinated through UC Davis’ Office of Agriculture and Natural Resources(UCANR). The mission of the UC California Naturalist Program is to foster a diverse community of naturalists and promote stewardship of California’s natural resources through education and service.

To become a certified California Naturalist, participants take a 40-hour education and training program offered by a partner organization. The program started in 2012 with five partners, and has expanded to about 50 partner organizations.

The first CalNat program in San Luis Obispo County was offered in 2016 through the Coastal Institute at Camp Ocean Pines in Cambria as an eight-day residential immersion program. The next class, led by biologists John Mehnke and Chris Cameron, starts Sunday, Aug. 19. It is chock full of superstar guest naturalists and field trips, with comprehensive information on everything from algae to zebras. Stewardship activities, alon gwith great food and friendship fill out a whirlwind eight days. Locals pay a reduced fee for the non-residential program.

As an instructor for the Coastal Institute in the past, I saw the value of the CalNat Program, offered at a slower pace, for residents in all of SLO County. Working with staff from UC Extension and Cuesta College, I am pleased to offer an eight-week CalNat course through Cuesta Community Programs, starting Sept. 21.

All California Naturalist courses are open to adults and have no prerequisites other than an interest in learning about the natural world. The program is ideal for adults who want to strengthen their knowledge and understanding of California’s natural history.

It’s a great resume-builder for people seeking jobs in environmental fields. It offers four units of transferable UC credit for students. And it’s a fun and enjoyable way to learn about many special places in the county.

As a structured course, there are some requirements for completion. These include:

  • Reading and homework: The California Naturalist Handbook

  • 40 hours of instruction in the classroom and on field trips

  • Participation in a class Citizen Science Project

  • Field notebook and journal

  • Participation in an iNaturalist local project

  • A capstone project and presentation

Upon completion of the course, participants receive a CalNat certification and pin. Four units of UC transferable credit are available for an additional $85 fee.

To learn more about the CalNatCourse offered through the Coastal Institute at Camp Ocean Pines, visit or call 805-927-0254.

To learn more about the CalNat Course offered through Cuesta College Community Programs, go to

Michele Roest is a biologist and naturalist with a lifelong love for San Luis Obispo County. Contact her at