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Hands-on environmentalists

Published 10:25pm Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Lots of folks say they’re concerned about the environment. For a particular group of people, it has become almost a badge of honor to drive a car that gets its power from an electrical outlet, and the alarms raised over global warming have taken on an almost religious fervor.

Relatively few people, however, are willing to roll up their sleeves and get themselves dirty to make the world a little greener. The Virginia Master Naturalists are some of those rare people, and they’re looking for like-minded environmentalists to join them in learning how to get involved directly in conservation efforts around Suffolk.

The organization’s Southside chapter has a training program that starts at the end of the month. A fee of $100 covers 24 hours of classroom instruction on basic ecology, entomology, botany, mammalogy, ichthyology, forestry, weather, geology, wetlands and ornithology. A further 16 hours’ worth of Saturday field trips to the Great Dismal Swamp, the Blackwater River, Chippokes Plantation, Piney Grove Preserve and the Blackwater Ecological Preserve will ensure some hands-on experience for participants.

Members team up on projects with natural scientists, often from academia and government, according to Geoffrey Payne, who helped organize the Southside chapter in 2011. At the Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove, for example, one project is studying how Japanese stiltgrass — an exotic invasive plant — is crowding out natives and endangering the red cockaded woodpecker and other flora and fauna. Volunteers will help test several different eradication strategies.

Getting even closer to the ground, volunteers have also participated in activities that benefit local groups directly, such as replacing trees and bushes at Smithfield’s Magnolia Manor Assisted Living with native species.

For more information about the classes or the Virginia Master Naturalists organization, visit www.vmnhistoricsouthside.org, or call 365-6261.

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