Defining the term naturalist is not a task easily answered by turning to a dictionary. A recent Google search returned the following eight variations of the definition.
• An advocate of the doctrine that the world can be understood in scientific terms.
• A biologist knowledgeable about natural history (especially botany and zoology). Source: www.wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
• A person who studies nature (including plants and animals) and natural history (how plants and animals evolve). Source: www.collectionscanada.ca/ exploreers/kids/h3-210-e.html
• An expert in natural history. Source: www.spaceforspecies.ca/glossary/n_o.htm
• A person, often a scientist or a writer, who studies and promotes nature. Source: www3.newberry.org/k12maps/glossary/
• A specialist who studies and/or teaches about nature. Source: www.treetures.com/Glossary.html
• A scientist who studies plants and animals from the natural world. Source: www.artsconnected.org/artsnetmn/environ/envvocab.html
• A person who studies nature. Source: www.nps.gov/gwmp/pac/mrn/terms.html
• A style of art made by artists who, longing for pre-industrial life, sought out healthy, untouched rural subjects. Observing nature firsthand was important.
As you can see by the wide variety of definitions, the word evokes different meanings for different groups of people. The term naturalist has shifted from the 19th century term for a field biologist to the professional interpretive naturalist we know today. Interpretation is the bridge that connects the two. The Pennsylvania Master Naturalist Program defines a naturalist as an individual who studies nature and natural history. This program will give you a basic knowledge about the ecology of Pennsylvania and the ability to go out and share it with others.
Being a naturalist is not a new vocation. Pioneer naturalists played an important role in shaping the United States as we know it today. Two naturalists who had a particularly strong hand in shaping our thoughts and preservation efforts were Sigurd F. Olson and Aldo Leopold.
1. Think of a naturalist you admire. What are the qualities that make this person a good naturalist? Which of these qualities do you have? Which would you like to acquire? Write them down on a 3 x 5 card and keep them in your Pennsylvania Master Naturalist book. At the end of the course, take them out and see if you feel that you have gained these skills. If not, how can you make a plan to seek them out?
2. Find a local interpretive naturalist at a nature facility near you. Interview them about what their job entails, and how they came to this career.
Learn more about professional organizations that support naturalists in Pennsylvania from the links below:
Pennsylvania Center for Environmental Education:
The Pennsylvania Center for Environmental Education (PCEE) was started in 1996 under an order from Governor Tom Ridge, with the mission to enhance public access to environmental education. Funded through a state grant to the PA State System of Higher Education, Slippery Rock University administers PCEE. The Center functions as a “virtual resource center”, providing educational resources, information about nature and environmental centers and programs, organizations, and job opportunities related to the environment and environmental education.
Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators : www.paee.net
The Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators (PAEE) is a non-profit organization that works to unite environmental educators throughout the state and beyond. Found in 1977 by a small group of environmental educators, PAEE is led by a Board of Directors and is a state affiliate of the North American Association for Environmental Education. Members of the organization come from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests, including home schooling, state agencies, business and industry, and higher education – basically anyone with an interest in the environment and educating the public. Anyone may become a member by filling out a membership form and paying yearly dues.
National Association for Interpretation: www.interpnet.com
Interpretation is a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource. The mission of NAI is “Inspiring leadership and excellence to advance heritage interpretation as a profession.”
North American Association for Environmental Education: www.naaee.org
The North American Association for Environmental Education promotes excellence in environmental education and helps educators achieve environmental literacy so that present and future generations benefit from a safe and healthy environment and a better quality of life.
Updated: May 2018