The Carolina Backyard Naturalist Program

— Written By

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North Carolina is growing at twice the rate of the national average, with a projected population of 10.5 million by 2020, making the state the ninth-largest in the country. Growing populations increase stresses on the environment including pollution and fragmented habitats, resulting in declines in species abundance and diversity. A comprehensive and accessible outreach program is needed to help North Carolina residents improve their awareness and appreciation of our shared natural environment so that it can be protected, enhanced, and remain resilient to increasing population pressure.

To address this need, Horticulture Extension Agents in Haywood, Chatham, Durham, and Wake Counties offered a 14-week program, The Carolina Backyard Naturalist (CBN). Extension agents from these counties recruited subject matter experts from N.C. Cooperative Extension, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, NC Climate Office, NC Aquarium, NC State University, UNC Wilmington, and the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. Topics offered throughout the program included: Climate, Geology, and Soils of NC; Botany, Plant Ecology, and Plant ID; Entomology and Plant-Insect Interactions; Stream Ecology, Climate Change, and Invasive Species, as well as a specific focus on the reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals of North Carolina.

Nearly 500 North Carolinians registered for the online course, and an average of 252 people attended each lecture. Participants universally reported increased knowledge in all of the topics covered and expressed an increased appreciation and awareness for the wildlife, ecosystems, and natural resources of North Carolina. One participant commented that “I feel I am getting a college-level education on these subjects, for free!” Additionally, the CBN Program offered nearly 50 hours of continuing education credits for 80 environmental educators throughout North Carolina. Extension agents in Haywood and Chatham Counties are currently partnering with Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment in the Community-Based Environmental Management Certification Program to further promote and recruit participants for future offerings of the CBN Program.

This statewide pilot program will serve as a model for future iterations of the series, available online and eventually in-person on a local or regional basis. Visit the Carolina Backyard Naturalist website for more information, and complete this form to be notified when the series is offered again.