All posts by Marc Opperman

A day of weather, climate and water birds at Hornsby Bend

The 2016 Trainees completed their second class recently. It was held at Hornsby Bend’s Center for Environmental Research, a department of Austin Water Utility. Dr. Kevin Anderson (director of the CER) lectured on the history of ecology in the U.S. and Texas. Jon W. Zeitler (Science and Operations Officer, National Weather Service, Austin-San Antonio) spoke on the complex topic of what defines weather and climate, while Dr. Ruth Buskirk (University of Texas at Austin) introduced the trainees to taxonomy.

After lunch, Dr. Anderson gave the group a tour of the biosolids composting facilities, and led a hike through a small part of the 1,200 acres of riparian forest habitat at Hornsby. The walk highlights the bird blind built to facilitate watching the spectacular diversity of migrating waterfowl. At another stop, he discusses the progression some of the land made from being accidentally-bulldozed for a parking lot to becoming the mid successional forest that is present today.

Class of 2016 Orientation



With yesterday’s orientation at Discovery Hill, the CAMN Class of 2016 is officially underway. Meeting the new folks is always amazing, and a source of great inspiration to more experienced CAMN members. Learning what drives them to seek more involvement in natural resource conservation and outreach, what experiences they’ve had, and learning about connections they have to each other – not to mention just experiencing their enthusiasm – is a highlight of the year. Already this group seems to be gelling quite well, and one could see the seeds of some longterm friendships taking root.

Discovery Hill seemed a fitting place to kick off the new class. It is a partnership between the Austin Independent School District and the National Wildlife Federation to create and maintain an outdoor education center and field trip destination for students and teachers alike. In just three years, volunteers (some of them CAMN members) created lush native plant gardens with bountiful habitat for birds, pollinators, and other wildlife. With help from the Native Plant Society of Texas and Westcave Preserve (as well as other funders), gardens were created to showcase native plant communities, with each area within the garden representing the different eco-regions of Texas. Bringing interest (as well as wildlife, and, doubtlessly fascinated children) to the center of the gardens, a stocktank pool features water plants and small fish.  The grounds of the gardens, adjacent to Pleasant Hill Elementary School, are open to the public for a casual stroll. Interpretive signs and an outdoor solar classroom complete the learning environment.



One of the presentations we subject new members to features different ways CAMN members have gotten involved in their community. You can watch a version of it here.

Terry Southwell… Outstanding Service

IMG_2884On Friday, November 6, City of Austin Mayor Steve Adler proclaimed the day Wildland Conservation Volunteer Day, and presented CAMN member Terry Southwell with the proclamation.

On Saturday, Terry was recognized as Austin Water‘s Wildland Conservation Division Volunteer of the Year for his regular contributions to habitat restoration, stewardship and outreach on the Balcones Canyonlands Preserves (BCP) and Water Quality Protection Land (WQPL) preserves.

We are proud of Terry and his contributions both to the city and to the Texas Master Naturalist Program.

Terry Southwell recognized as the 2015 Volunteer of the Year for Austin Water’s Wildland Conservation Division. Interim Director Kevin Thuesen and Volunteer Coordinator Cait McCann share in the appreciation here.


2016 Class Acceptance has been decided…

Emails have gone out to those who were accepted to the 2016 Training Class, as well as to those who were not accepted. Please check your inbox (or possibly spam folder) if you were anxiously awaiting an answer about your application.

Thank you to all who applied. For those who were accepted, we look forward to meeting you at the orientation! We hope you’ll find CAMN to be one of the richest learning experiences you’ve encountered, and that you make many new friends in the process.

For those who weren’t… please try again next year. Many veteran CAMN members had to apply more than a couple times before they were finally given one of the ~30 training slots. And with 70 applicants this year that meant a lot of denial emails went out. We’re sorry. We hope you’ll continue to follow us and check back Aug. 1, 2016 for the next application.

And that’s a wrap!

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With our 70th entry coming just 42 minutes before the witching hour, our 2016 class application has come to a close. We may have set a new record for the most applications for any class, and we did it all in one month. (Some years we’ve taken applications through September and early October.)

Thank you to all the amazing people who have applied. Having glanced at all of the applications as they’ve come in, I know there is a huge amount of talent, interest and enthusiasm reflected in those entries. It will be a pretty serious challenge to pick the 30 (and backups) who will be invited to the November orientation.

We’ll be notifying everyone (accepted or not) in the next few weeks when we’ve made our selections. We’ll let you know what comes next, and what to expect.

If you didn’t get to apply this particular year, please check back in August, 2016 for the 2017 class.

CAMN and Diversity

A couple weeks ago, I attended a lunchtime seminar hosted by the Hill Country Conservancy as part of a new series of talks aimed at promoting diversity in the ecological services. The Shades of Green learning series hosts panelists working toward diversity and inclusion in non-profits and educational settings. The panelists included Huston-Tillotson University’s Director of Community and Public Health Initiatives, an organizer from the Sierra Club fighting environmental injustice perpetrated on historically poor communities, and an attorney whose firm works to help non-profits form. In addition to highlighting their personal backgrounds, they outlined the main challenges their organizations face in reaching different underserved communities, and how their ideals for engagement have changed and grown. Afterward, the panelists took questions from the audience.

David Buggs, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Moderator David Buggs, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

I have always felt CAMN includes a good mix of all ages, ranging from college students to retirees, and a very balanced gender mix. I stress this is simply my feeling based on casual observation, however. We do not keep any records of member demographics to back up my feeling. Our success, at least for these measures, is probably largely haphazard, a reflection of Austin’s higher education population, activist tendencies, and relative wealth. To my knowledge we’ve never sought or promoted any particular policies to sway the mix of our membership one way or another. In fact, for most of our history, we’ve been somewhat blind to any such demographic factors with our (largely) first-come/first serve application that doesn’t ask any questions that might be used in specific inclusionary OR exclusionary ways. I think a core genetic building block of our brand of citizen science is often a belief in the decency of humankind, and that decency – at least in outward practice – has no need to exclude anyone with a passion for their natural surroundings, regardless of where they come from.

That said, we are practically a racial monoculture. To be sure, we are not by any means unique in this regard among volunteer-driven, environmentally-concerned non-profits in Austin. Many volunteer coordinators and outreach people I’ve talked to have at one point noted the racial monoculture in their membership pool. Many have expressed concern, but have never found solutions to the predicament of how to include more people of color in their membership.

When I became president of CAMN, I listed increasing our racial diversity and our reach to underserved communities as a goal. I promptly failed to do much to reach it, however. I didn’t know where to start, what tools to employ, or even who to talk to outside my typical middle-class white circles. As someone at the talk remarked, it’s incredibly difficult even to start conversations that revolve around race, let alone dive into how to solve the considerable issues. Furthermore, it’s difficult to break out of our usual zones of comfort – our typical circles of friends, colleagues and associates – to even find ways to connect and include new people.

And minority members of our community may perceive different, subtly hostile elements of interpersonal dynamics when they visit organizations outside their typical circles. What one group may find as perfectly acceptable, another may find unwelcoming. And if they feel unwelcome, they’re likely not to engage or return.

The reasons the environmental movement is so racially fractured are numerous and varied. I’ll get into that in a moment with some help from the notes of one of the other attendees. But solving some of these issues, I believe, is core to the survival of organizations like CAMN, and more universally, broadly-accepted protection of the environment as a movement. All communities need environmental protection in one form or another, but so many of those protections come in efforts to safeguard pristine and sometimes remote tracts of land that are geographically disconnected from many urban, underserved communities. Putting myself in the shoes of a far east-side resident, it would be hard for me to care about efforts to protect the preserves that surround the wealth of Steiner Ranch, for example. Efforts to protect those spaces often ignore urban creeks, parks, green spaces, community gardens, etc., places people of color might find connection themselves. And when a demographic loses connection to natural environments, it has no immediate incentive to learn about them, restore them, to protect them. To speak up and vote for them. Before long, we find ourselves with gutted state and national policy related to clean air, water, endangered species or parks.

What can we do about it? I’m going to let the notes of Mikael Behrens, birder and volunteer extraordinaire (and applicant to the 2016 class), speak to this. He was the one who alerted me to the seminar, and did a great job at capturing the main themes of the conversation. (He, I and several other CAMN members attended.)

  • David Buggs, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
  • Dominique Bowmen – Huston-Tillotson university. Has environmental studies major. Has Green is new Black student organization.
  • Marisa Perales – law firm partner focusing on environmental issues. Also helps people form non-profits. It’s a for-profit law firm, though they don’t do much environmental justice work or work with many people of color.
  • Dave Cortez – Sierra Club. Sierra Club was originally only white males. Decolonization. Beyond Coal campaign
  • People of color (POC) need their needs met by environmentalists. And environmentalists need to learn what those needs are. Ex: access to parks via having local parks or having parks accessible via public transportation.
  • Out of necessity, POC are often more concerned with environmental justice issues than conservation. Dave has used reducing utility bills to interface with low income segments, and get them interested in conservation as a way to lower their bills.
  • Environmentalism is more than preserving pristine areas. Urban environments should be a priority too, so we don’t have to travel. Where we work and live everyday.
  • There is a perceived cost and privilege to environmentalism. POC more often view possessions as symbols of having arrived. Green insiders club has formed due to unconscious bias. Contact historically black universities with environmental studies programs. Go into minority-frequented places even if it makes you uncomfortable.
  • Gentrification — often new residents don’t know history of a neighborhood they are joining. There are often already passionate local organizations who know the neighborhood better than the newcomers and have already identified the most important local issues. Need to work with people already there and follow their lead. Ex: urban farms battle didn’t respect neighbors already there. Help instead of lead.
  • How do we engage environmental justice crowd with privileged land conservation crowd? Be open, listen, learn, get out of your comfort zone.
  • Transportation is an undercurrent way environmental justice causes are being undermined. Tollways are limiting access to highways to those who can afford it. Access to public transportation.

Please… join me in the conversation. I would welcome comments here or on our Facebook page. What can CAMN do better? What contacts can we make? What am I missing?

A CAMN Reading List

Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife
Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife

One of our long-time members, Jeri P., has compiled a fabulous list of the books she loves as a Master Naturalist. Some of the books here are seminal works for the Texas Master Naturalist, as close to required reading as it gets. Like Roy Bedichek’s Adventures With A Texas Naturalist or Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. Some are written by CAMN members, like Nature Watch Austin by Jim and Lynne Weber, or Kelly Simon’s Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife.

Nature Watch Austin
Nature Watch Austin

Whatever your interest in the natural world, there’s probably a book (or three) on Jeri’s list that’ll scratch the itch. Her list is broken into four sections.

Got your own favorites? We’d love to hear what they are!

Nature Readings
Adventures With a Texas Naturalist Bedichek, Roy
Austin Nature Watch Weber, Jim & Lynne
Bird in the Waterfall Dennis & Wolff
Botany of Desire Pollan, Michael
Forgotten Pollinators Pollan, Michael
Future of Life Wilson, E.O.
Green History of the World Ponting, Clive
Messages From the Wild Gehlback, Frederich
Noah's Garden Stein, Sarah
Paddling the Guadalupe McAlister, Wayne
Rembunctious Garden Marris, Emma
Sand County Almanac Leopold, Aldo
The Geography of Childhood Nebhan & Trimble
Walden Thoreau, Henry David
Wilderness World of John Muir Teale, Edward
Field Guides
Amphibians Amphibians & Reptiles of Texas Dixon, James
Amphibians Familiar Reptiles & Amphibians of North America Audubon Society Pocket Guide
Birds Birds of texas Rappole & Blacklock
Birds Field Guide to the Birds of Easter North America Sibley, David
Birds Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America Sibley, David
Butterflies Butterflies of North America Brock & Kaufmann
Butterflies Butterflies through Binoculars (A field guide of the West) Glassberg, Jeffrey
Dragonflies Dragonflies Through Binoculars Dunkel, Sidney
Birds A Field Guide to Birds Peterson
Gardening with Natives Native Texas Plants by Region Wasowski, Sally & Andy
Geology Roadside Geology of Texas Spearing, Darwin
Grasses Common Texas Grasses Gould, Frank
Insects Insects of the Texas Lost Pines Taber & Fleenor
Journaling/identification Bird Tracks and Sign Elbroch, Mark & Boretos, Diane 0-81177-2696-7
Journaling/identification Mammal Tracks & Sign Elbroch, Mark 0-8117-2626-6
Journaling/identification Nature Observation and Tracking Brown, Jr., Tom 0-4250-9966-0
Mammals Mammals of Texas Schmedley, David
Plants Native & Naturalized Woody Plants of Austin & the Hill Country Bro. Daniel Lynch
Plants Wildflowers of Texas Ajilvsgi, Geyata
Plants Texas Wildflowers Loughmiller, Campbell & Lynn
Plants A Field Guide to Wildflowers, Trees & Shrubs of Texas Tull & Miller
Plants Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country Enquist, Marshall
Plants Texas Wildscapes:Gardening for Wildlife Damunde & Bender
Plants Field Guide to the Broad-Leaved & Herbaceous Plants of S.Texas Everett, Drawe & Lonard
Reptiles A Field Guide to Texas Reptiles & Amphibians Bartlett, R.D. & Patricia
Reptiles A Field Guide to Texas Snakes Tenant, Alan
Reptiles Amphibians & Reptiles of Texas Dixon, James
Reptiles Familiar Reptiles & Amphibians of North America Audubon Society Pocket Guide
Reptiles Horned Lizard Manaster, Jane
Reptiles Intro. to Horned Lizards of North America Sherbrooke, Wade
Snakes Poisonous Snakes of Texas Price, Andy
Snakes Texas Snakes Werler & Dixon
Just Good Reading
Title Author
Aransas Harrigan, Stephen
Cadillac Desert Reisner, Mark
Caprock Canyonlands Flores
Captured Zesch, Scott
Desert Solitaire Abbey, Edward
Empire of the Summer Moon Gwynne, S.C.
Enchanted Rock Allred, Lance
Goodby to a River Graves, John
Hard Scrabble Graves, John
Illuminations in the Flatwoods Hutto, Joe
Indian Life In Texas Shawn, Charles
John Graves Reader Graves, John
Lone Star Fehrenbach, T.R.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Dillar, Annie
Prodigal Summer Kingsolver, Barbara
Texas State Parks and the CCC Brandimarte & Reed
Touching the Wild Hutto, Joe
Water From Stone Bamberger, David
Woodswoman LaBastille, Anne
General Reading
Title Author ISBN #
Butterfly Gardening for the South Ajilvsgi, Geyata
Texas Bug Book Beck & Garrett
Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife Damunde & Bender
How to Grow Native Plants ofTexas & the Southwest Nokes, Jill
Rare Plants of Texas Poole, Carr, Price, etc.

Application for 2016 Class Still Open

Val Bugh leading field activity
Val Bugh leading field activity for 2015 class on Insects

We put a lot of effort into making sure each year’s trainees have an amazing experience. Whether it’s meetings to work out all the details of all the classes, or discussions on what things to try to make things even better, our Curriculum Committee folks invest a lot of passion and love into this process. This year is no different, and brings new changes and tweaks to our process for 2016. (The online application is just one of those changes!) You can be a part of this amazing process and reap the rewards. We have 35 applications so far, but would love to see more.

Apply here. Applications close at the end of August.