What do you call a curious, engaged, fun-loving, conservation-minded person looking for a way to help manage natural lands on the Mississippi Coast? Why, I believe this would be the perfect candidate for the Mississippi Habitat Stewards Program.
The Mississippi Habitat Stewards Program partners with natural lands' managers all along the Mississippi Coast to help with land management on these public lands. Here in Mississippi, managers of natural lands are stretched pretty thin. With over 60,000 acres to manage and only a handful of staff, it is a struggle to manage our coastal habitats for wildlife, fire, invasive species treatment, and safe access for people.
Volunteers with the program are trained in a series of field classes showcasing the many nature preserves, habitats, and project ideas for service. Once the training is completed, a site(s) is chosen and a work plan is established so the volunteer knows specific work and schedule and the partners also know what's being done on their sites.
As the trainer of this group, the volunteers I have seen in the program are a varied bunch of all ages and backgrounds. Some are new to the area and want to meet people and learn more about the coast; some have grown up here camping on the islands and never understanding their own status as a naturalist; some are young students; some are retired or getting to the end of the career and looking for something to do to keep mind and body engaged.
The 2012 class is scheduled for March. If you are interested in signing up, call or email soon!
Leah Bray, Ecologist
- trail building
- trail monitoring
- wildlife/bird surveys
- tree/grass planting
- invasive species management
- public use planning
- National Wildlife Federation
- Mississippi Wildlife Federation
- Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Coastal Preserves Program
- USFWS, Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge and Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge
- Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain
- University of Southern Mississippi, Marine Education Center at Cedar Point
- Natural Capital Development
Our land partners provide us many wonderful opportunities to "work" on their properties. As partners, the Habitat Stewards learn about little known places and the wonderful bounty of habitats we have on the Mississippi Coast.
And, finally, a few words from the Habitat Stewards...
"I think it's a great program! The Habitat Steward Program is just the thing to increase people's awareness and appreciation of the environment. And it develops a core volunteer group to do the things that need to be done to develop and preserve it. Just like anything else - if those who own the issues are not involved in the resolutions - you get nowhere. The more people the program reaches, the better. The classes are most informative, especially with them actually being in the field. But it's the actual "doing" activities that bring it home. I learned a great deal from the classes and the activities, and they have whetted my appetite to learn more and do more. I am really looking forward to better weather and steward activities." Elaine LeGros, Buckeye Class
"Habitat Stewards Training involved more fun outings than we have had in years. Working 4 hours outdoors is worth a week of relaxation training. " Gayla Shmitt, Buckeye Class
"I was a bit uncertain at first, I couldn't get a firm fix on where you were going with this thing. But as the program progressed its potential became more clear to me; with the right people it can be a real winner. And you did seem to attract the right people. I was very much impressed with the intellectual level, experience, skills and competence of my class mates."
Ned Boyajian, Buckeye Class
“Mainly we got to know the lay of the land and what it meant. We learned how it had been before and what we might be able to do to make it better for the future.” Julia O'Neal, Alligator Class
“There are lots of people out there who have the attitude or intention to do something to conserve habitats and biodiversity, but they don't feel empowered to do it. The HS program gives that empowerment.” Janet Wright, Alligator Class
The 2012 Mississippi Habitat Stewards Program is sponsored by a grant from BP.