Home‎ > ‎

Meet Our Members

Julia Trimble, Chapter Training Officer, Spring Class 2011

Why did you want to become a Master Naturalist?

I have always had in interest in nature and conservation.  When I was at a crossroads in my career, I went looking for something ecology related.  I found out about TMN and thought it would be a good way to broaden my horizons and learn more.

How are you using your training?

When I first took the training, I enjoyed teaching and volunteering with children.  Opening up that part of the world for them is great fun and so rewarding.   Currently, as Training Coordinator, I am helping new members-in-training get their start.  Also, I love to travel in the US and abroad.  I take my TMN training with me wherever I go.  It has opened up the natural world to me in so many ways.

Where do you do most of your volunteering and how can the Chapter help you? 

As Training Coordinator, the majority of my volunteer hours are spent with the training committee, training classes and the Board of Directors, although I still find time to volunteer at the Wildlife Center of Texas.  Twice a year, the training committee puts out a call for help with training classes.  We have an awesome training committee that does a great job, but a lot goes into getting the classes up and running.  Having helpers is an important part of keeping things running smoothly.

What has surprised you most about the Master Naturalist program?

First, how much there is to learn.   I have been with GCMN for nearly 7 years, and I am still learning new things ALL the time!  The well of information that we have access to is endless.  Second, the people who come to the chapter for the same reason. I meet people of all ages, from all walks of life, all looking to learn and volunteer to make the world a better place.  It is inspiring to meet and work with them all.

Russ Kane, Spring Class 2015
Why did you want to become a Master Naturalist?

I wish that I could say that becoming a Master Naturalist was a long-range goal for me. Rather, I’ve been a Houston-area gardener for over 40 years. I have always spent a lot of time outdoors planting, pruning and landscaping around the homes that I’ve owned in northwest Houston and, more recently, in the Montrose area.

In 2014, my wife and I built a new house on a Montrose property my mother lived on previously. Somehow, about that time I got the idea to be a Master Gardener, but when Spring 2015 came around, the Master Gardener class was not offered. However, I noticed that there was a Master Naturalist class being offered. Without too much forethought, other than it sounding interesting, I signed up.

The Spring 2015 Master Natural class was really a mind-expanding experience for me. After I got into it, I realized that I had been focused only on my very small personal plot of land armed with my arsenal of exotic (and likely invasive) plants, gas-powered machines, fertilizers, chemicals and lots of water - hardly a natural approach. I had not thought much about the natural state of plants and their relationship with their native surroundings, especially their part in the food web with local wildlife. I had already thought about planting native Texas plants in my yard, but I really didn’t know much about them. 

I was blown away by what I learned in my Master Naturalist class. This includes what was in my self-chosen area of specialty, but by all of the other aspects of the natural environment that so critically interact with it. As a result, I started reading about some of Texas’s first naturalists who saw first hand, and described, the Gulf Coast prairies and prairie plants. I was particularly moved when learning about the interrelationships developed over thousands of years among local native plants and native pollinators, birds and other wildlife.

How are you using your training?

My initial focus was to utilize native Texas plants in the yard at my new Montrose-area house. As best as I knew how at the time, I researched information online and started to buy books on native Texas plants and landscaping with native plants. I also joined the Houston Chapter or the Native Plant Society of Texas.

Applying my naturalist training I’ve learned that many good-minded people in the nursery and landscaping trade know little about Texas native plants. If they do know about Texas natives, they tend to focus on plants that come from dry hill country or west Texas locales rather the local native plants that actually like our rainy, hot and humid conditions.

For the past several months, I’ve been working weekdays, nights and weekends along with Margaret Gnewuch and Nancy Hannan from NPSOT-Houston and Meg Inglis from the NPSOT state organization. We have developed the first-ever Native Landscaping Certification Program (NLCP) class especially designed for the 9-county greater Houston area. We have developed a list of 45 local native Texas plants specific to this region and 5 non-native exotic plants to identify, avoid and remove. This class addresses plant information and preferred growing conditions for the selected local native plants along with information on our region’s particular ecoregions, climate and soil types, and simple and sustainable native-compatible landscaping techniques and contrasts them with conventional development.

During March and April we held these first-time classes at Armand Bayou Nature Center, where we focused on classroom activities and a dedicated plant walk were most of our selected plants can be observed in the wild. My class focus is the benefit of native plants and landscaping aspects while my Houston-based partners in this effort focus on plant knowledge.

A significant result of the effort is that it has produced the first vetted list of local native Texas plants for the Greater Houston area that can be used by home gardeners, nursery tradespeople and landscape architects. As we progress to organizing the Level 2-4 NLCP classes, we will be adding to the plant list until we have 200 local native plants identified.

In addition to my native plant interests, I have been a long-time technical researcher and writer. I hope that I can utilize my writing skills along with the knowledge that I’m gaining through the Master Naturalist program to contribute articles to local and regional publications highlighting the exciting outdoor greenspaces in and around the Houston area. An example is this recent story,  (click here) contributed to Edible Houston now in print in their March 2016 issue.

Where do you do most of your volunteering and how can the Chapter help you? 

Obviously, over the past 4 to 5 months, my efforts have been applied to the Native Plant Society of Texas. My focus has been getting the NLCP Level 1 class off the ground. This has taken up a goodly share of my volunteer time.

I have also joined the Board of the NPSOT-Houston Chapter as publicity and social media coordinator. Since taking on this job, I have worked to help upgrade their Facebook and web pages, and created Twitter and Instagram accounts (both with @NPSOT_HOU). I’m particularly excited about using social media to expand the outreach for NPSOT and native plants to different and younger demographic groups than have been attempted previously.

I have also volunteered at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center and worked on their plant identification and sampling activities. This effort provides the native plant samples viewed by visitors to the nature center.  I would urge any of my fellow Master Naturalists with an interest in native plants to join the Houston chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas!

What has surprised you most about the Master Naturalist program?

What most impressed me about the Master Naturalist program is the breadth and diversity of interests of our Gulf Coast Master Naturalists. These interests include all aspects of the natural environment, both organic and inorganic; its various life forms and the magnificent extent of their interactions. As an example, during our last two classes prior to certification, we were all asked to give presentations on something we learned or a topic in which we were interested. Over those two classes, I was particularly fascinated that no two presentations were alike, each illustrating a unique combination of science, passion and call-to-service displayed by each of the graduating Master Naturalists.

Edward Craven, Fall Class 2015

1.   Why did you want to become a master naturalist?

I grew up exploring the prairies and bayous in and around what is now Armand Bayou Nature Center.  As kids, we would walk to the end of the street and drop into the seemingly endless prairie to disappear into beds made of tall grasses.  This was before the red fire ants had taken over and only a tiny strip of forest could be seen along the horizon.  I remember Eastern Meadowlarks, a declining prairie bird, were the most common bird in our back yard and in fact, the meadowlark was my first life bird!

I have been a life-long birder and have explored and birded six of the seven continents, including some of the planet’s most unique treasures, such as Manu National Park, which may be the most biodiverse place on Earth.  Returning to Manu several years later, I was shocked at the deforestation both outside and within the Park. I felt somewhat discouraged but hoped that my ecotourism dollars would make a difference. 

I was encouraged to have seen seventeen species of lemurs over six weeks in the Madagascar rainforest, but I was not prepared for the sight of the massive erosion of rust-colored soil bleeding into the sea, turning it red.

In Sapa, North Vietnam, songbirds are food.  My friends and I searched a silent forest for three days without seeing any birds.  Finally, on the third day a mixed flock with almost all of our target birds flew over the ridge and gave us song and bright colors!  This lasted about twenty minutes and then the forest became silent again.

In the face of so much habitat loss and species decline, I am encouraged to see more and more of us realizing the value of our natural history around the world.  For example, I have seen the amazing dance of the Blue bird-of-paradise in Papua New Guinea.  The bird’s territory is in a row of trees not too far from a road.  Chiefs and local leaders have learned the value of ecotourism and now they protect their assets.

Based on my life experiences and values, I was drawn to the Texas Master Naturalist program.  I was so excited to become a Texas Master Naturalist and work to restore and improve our native plants and animals.  I have witnessed the effects of habitat loss, overpopulation and climate change first hand and I am dedicated to making a difference.  Becoming a Master Naturalist is my way to educate and be active locally to improve and restore our Gulf Coast!

2.     How are you using your training?

I am both the Chairman of the Volunteer Board and the Volunteer Stewardship Chairman at Armand Bayou Nature Center.  As Chairman of the Volunteer Board, I am responsible for leading the Volunteer Board meetings and ensuring that our limited funds and resources are well managed.  I am also responsible for ensuring that the needs of our volunteers are met.  My training as a Texas Master Naturalist has been invaluable in helping me to prioritize the needs of the Nature Center and to determine the best way to utilize the many talents of our dedicated group of volunteers.  As Volunteer Stewardship Chairman, I am responsible for coordinating projects to further the mission of the Nature Center.  For example, the Stewardship Saturday group built the platform on which the heron rookery stands.  This rookery is the only one in the area and has provided nesting structures for our birds.  We also maintain trails, remove invasive non-native plants and propagate and plant native species in the prairie.  We have a dedicated team and meet on the first and third Saturday of the month.  We are also responsible for trail maintenance and other projects, such as maintaining our bird blind and feeders.

3.    Where do you do most of your volunteering and what can the chapter do to help you?

In addition to my other responsibilities at Armand Bayou Nature Center, I am one the leaders of the monthly bird counts on the second Saturday of every month.  I have also been very involved with Houston Audubon and am an active volunteer at the High Island Rookery, answering questions and interpreting the natural history of our birds.  But I must say that one of my favorite activities is cutting and burning invasive plants, especially Chinese Privet!  I have recently begun volunteering with the Centennial Forest at the Big Thicket.  The Gulf Coast Chapter could help me by becoming a member of Armand Bayou Nature Center - it’s an amazing place!

4.    What has surprised you most about the Master Naturalist program?

What surprised me the most is the wealth of knowledge and resources I have at my disposal.  For example, when I mentioned that I wanted to plant long-leaf seedlings on my property in the Big Thicket, I was able to tap into our network and discover a presentation on that very topic!  Not only did I find a source of seedlings, but I was able to join a group with a goal of returning long-leaf pines to our region!

Julie Mintzer, Spring Class 2014

Julie is our new chapter president and describes herself as a
lways optimistic, passionately dedicated, constantly sarcastic and outdoorsy (in a nerdy way)!

1.  Why did you want to become a master naturalist?

I moved to Houston in 2009 when I was offered a job with an area conservation nonprofit organization: Galveston Bay Foundation. As the Director of Community Program, I worked to get people connected to the Bay, either through hands-on service—like large-scale, community marsh grass plantings, smaller scale trash clean-ups, or focused initiatives like oyster reef restoration—or through education events—like booths at events, an annual bike ride around the entire bay, or day long festivals willed with bay and nature-based education. Time and time again, some of the most helpful volunteers I had the privilege of working with were from the Texas Master Naturalist program. When I changed jobs to work for the Student Conservation Association (SCA) in 2013, I joined an organization with an appreciation for its staff’s professional development. As soon as I could, I applied to the first training class Texas Master Naturalist that fit my schedule: Spring 2014. My job with SCA was to get young people outside, in touch with nature, learn about service, and become young leaders. Fortunately/unfortunately to that point, I had spent the majority of my time in Houston in the local brackish marshes, and I needed to get up to speed quickly on the 9 other ecoregions locally. The Texas Master Naturalist program was the perfect way to do that. 

2.  How are you using your training?

I still work in the local Houston nonprofit scene at Rebuilding Together Houston—working to give no-cost home repair to Veterans and low-income elderly and disabled folks (I’m focusing on the humans in our ecosystem for a while). Working a ‘normal’ nonprofit schedule, my weeks and many of my weekends are taken up with work. Most of my training is used when I am recruited to act as a team-lead for larger-scale community events (scheduled well in advance). I really enjoy getting my hands dirty and connecting people to whatever ecosystem in which they are working.

3.  Where do you do most of your volunteering and what can the chapter do to help you?

I like to work in as many different ecosystems and with as many organizations as possible! I work with nonprofits like Galveston Bay Foundation, Katy Prairie Conservancy, Audubon Texas, Student Conservation Association, The Nature Conservancy, and Greens Bayou Corridor Coalition. I also like supporting my local parks through Texas Parks and Wildlife, and City of Houston. I’d be delighted if my fellow Master Naturalists would join me—carpooling makes the sometimes long commute more fun! There is nothing quite like seeing tens to hundreds of volunteers working to get large-scale restoration work done. As well, as the leader, if you can teach the volunteers what they are doing, why they are doing it, and somehow make it more fun than hard work, those volunteers will walk away with a new love of that specific place in nature. The more people love nature, the better off we all are.

4. What has surprised you most about the Master Naturalist program?

I’m incredibly proud and ~slightly jealous~ of my fellow master naturalists as they get their hour pins: 250, 500, 5,000, etc.. I am one of those Master Naturalists who has to work to get all of my hours each year—my silly job gets in the way of my volunteering. The dedication of my colleagues is inspiring, and it makes me want to shout from the rooftops about this program and how others can get involved.  Thank you for accepting me, training me, and letting me join your ranks. I am proud to be a Master Naturalist because of the reputation made by those who came before me and with whom I stand knee deep in mud.

Jerry Hamby, Fall Class 2014

1.  Why did you want to become a master naturalist?

From the time I was a young child, I have enjoyed spending time outdoors, but because my background is in liberal arts and fine arts, my knowledge of science was limited. I saw the Texas Master Naturalist program as an opportunity to learn more about biology, climatology, geology, and environmental science. I also wanted to find places to participate in volunteer service, to give something back to the community. In particular, I was looking for ways to spend my (eventual) retirement years.

2.  How are you using your training?

As a community college instructor, I bring many of my master naturalist experiences to the classroom. My English composition students read and write about their relationship with nature, and I tie much of what I learned to the readings and discussions. I have also taken my students on field trips to Sheldon Lake State Park and encourage them to complete volunteer service on their own. Several of my students have come to the tree nursery where I am a volunteer, and I give them extra credit if they write detailed reflections on their experiences.

3.  Where do you do most of your volunteering and what can the chapter do to help you?

I am a lead volunteer at the Exploration Green tree nursery in Clear Lake. Exploration Green is a conservation easement created between the Clear Lake City Water Authority and Galveston Bay Foundation. The multi-purpose park (hike-and-bike trails and wetlands habitat, among other features) is being developed on the site of the old Clear Lake City golf course (168 acres) and will take twelve to fifteen years to complete. The tree nursery contains 1,000 trees (with more than forty native species) that will eventually reforest the edges of the park. I oversee twice-monthly workdays at the nursery (the second Saturday and last Sunday of every month), where we repot and maintain the trees. The Gulf Coast Chapter has already helped by making Exploration Green an associate. That means members can receive credit for completing volunteer service at Exploration Green. I would love to see more chapter members come to Clear Lake. In addition to working in the nursery, in the coming months members will be needed to help relocate aquatic wildlife from a waterway leading out of the Phase I development site. Volunteers will also be needed to develop future projects, from planting trees and wetland plants to establishing a rookery and building trails.

4. What has surprised you most about the Master Naturalist program?

I never imagined how varied, intricate, and essential prairie ecosystems were. Because of my experiences at Katy Prairie and Sheldon Lake, I have become an aficionado of gulf prairies and marshes, and share my knowledge of them with anyone who is willing to listen. In the fall I was invited to help collect native plants at a prairie remnant near Hitchcock. I have also been pleasantly surprised to see how friendly everyone associated with the program is. My classmates and I formed a tight bond, and I have met the most generous, warm people in our chapter and across the state. I urge everyone to attend the annual statewide meeting next October. I attended the past two years and had amazing experiences both times.

Send Jerry an email if you'd like to join his team at Exploration Green! Jerry.Hamby@txgcmn.org

If you'd like your project to be considered for this monthly feature, please contact info@txgcmn.org