URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – You may have a nature-lover in your life, but did you know they can become a master naturalist? 24 of them completed their training today. So, they’re looking for opportunities to put their new skills to good use.

“The work our master naturalists do is very important because they’re protecting the native ecology of our area,” U of I Extension horticulture educator Ryan Pankau said.

Master naturalist groups are rapidly growing across the state. They’re full of people who are interested in learning about Illinois ecosystems and how to protect them.

“We cover prairies, woodlands, wetlands, streams. We actually talk about archaeology because the human aspect of natural areas is huge,” Pankau said.

They complete a 10-week course that covers topics like plant identification and invasive species. Then, they go on to volunteer with park districts, forest preserves or other conservation groups.

“We do give them some skills that can give them the unique ability to volunteer in different ways than an average member of the general public,” he said.

Pankau said there aren’t enough full-time staff members to manage many natural areas. That’s where master naturalists come in handy.

“Our folks just add an extra level of assistance to help with that,” he said.

It’s bigger than the wildlife you see around you. Master naturalist Carol Jo Morgan co-founded the Idea Store – a non-profit that encourages reusing donated items for art.

“It is so important that in our everyday lives we conserve natural resources by being careful what we buy, being careful how we use the resources that we have,” she said.

The course is offered once a year. If you’re interested in becoming a master naturalist, you can find more information through the U of I Extension.