Posted by Terry Everett on Sep 25, 2019
      Cathy Van Bebber is a founding member and Director of Training and Recruitment for the Bluestem Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists.  The Texas Master Naturalist program is designed to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers who provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities for the State of Texas. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension serve as sponsors for the program.
      The Bluestem Chapter is the local organization. Most of their efforts are done at Hagerman Wildlife Refuge and Eisenhower State Park.
Texas has a population of 26 million.  Texas is very diverse as well with 180 species of mammals, 639 species of birds and 230 species of reptiles and amphibians, 240 species of fish, and one of the most ecologically diverse states.  Texas has eleven ecological regions.
      Everything from Canada down to San Antonio was once prairieland.  It is called the Great Plains Prairie that covers half-a-million square miles.  Unfortunately, almost all of it is gone today.  
      We are part of the Blackland Prairie that runs from right below Denison down to San Antonio.  It contains some of the best soil in the state and the big reason why all of the big cities are located where they are.  It encompassed 17,000 square miles and in the day it was covered with all kinds of grasses.  Bison and antelope roamed all over the area.  Less than on percent of this prairie remains today.  
      Cathy said that all of the trees we see today are not native.  They didn't exist back then except for a few around creeks or rivers.  Texas was dominated by tall grasses such as big bluestem, Indian grass, little bluestem, gamagrass and switch grass.  The grasses would be so tall that when a man was riding a horse through the grass, all you could see was his hat.
      In 2011, Cathy said ten of them got together because they had heard of the Texas Master Naturalist Program and wanted to do something locally.  So in 2012, they started the Bluestem Chapter.  Their goal and the goal of the whole program is to improve the public understanding of what should be done, what could be done and what needs to be done.
      They began with 10 members and have grown to 40 active members, plus they have 10 more in training.  The Bluestem Chapter has contributed 15,601 service hours and 2,000 hours of advanced training which equals $359,000 worth of service to Texas.
      Since the inception of the Texas Master Naturalist program in 1997, with the first chapter in San Antonio, they have grown to 48 chapters.  They have also exported the program to other states.  They had 10,000 certified Naturalists as of 2017.  They have contributed almost 3 million hours of service to the state of Texas, which equals about $55 million worth of service. They have worked on about 250,000 acres and reached 2 million Texans through their program.  
      Cathy shared the many programs they offer free of charge to all groups.  She also talked about a few of the many things they do at Hagerman and Eisenhower.  
      To learn more about the Texas Master Naturalist Program, visit their website at www.txmn.org or the local chapter at www.txmn.org/bluestem.