The UCANR Cal Nat Program—a "Seedling" from Earth Day!

March 25, 2016

By Linda Lane 

April 22, 1970, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, insprired the first Earth Day "teach-ins" .

The UCANR California Naturalist Program (Cal Nat), with courses offered at many locations statewide, is a wonderful example of how Earth Day has become a part of our everyday life. The missions of Cal Nat and Earth Day are parallel, though different in scope: Earth Day, celebrated by more than 1 billion people, educates and engages people through-out the world in protecting the environmental health of our planet; and Cal Nat, through education and service, promotes stewardship of California's natural resources.

The awareness of the need to protect our environment was slowly ignited in the 1960's by two events. In 1962, Rachel Carson, though knowing her claims "would surprise 99 out of 100 people," published Silent Spring, the first book to document the grave perils of pesticides, and in 1969, the somewhat apocryphal story of "the river that caught fire" (Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River) underscored the dangers of chemical waste disposal.

The public's shocked reaction to these incidents led to a new and growing concern about the environment, so the time was ripe for a educational approach: Earth Day! It was founded April 22, 1970, by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, who, inspired by the "teach-ins" of the 1960s antiwar protests, hoped to create a mass movement to educate people about environmental problems, in particular air and water pollution. According to Nelson, “Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.” Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist who spoke at the first and subsequent Earth Day events agreed: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." The first Earth Day was without question overwhelmingly effective: when polled in May 1971, 25 percent of the American public declared protecting the environment to be an important goal, a 2,500 percent increase over 1969.

The seeds of Earth Day have indeed sprouted in California with, among many other programs and events, the creation of the Cal Nat Program. Participants not only study a unique variety of subjects—ranging from ecology to wildlife to citizen science— but also can become a certified California Naturalist. Once certified, Naturalists have opportunities to volunteer throughout the state with various federal, state, local, and non-profit organizations in many activities: scientific research (plant identification or data collection), environmental monitoring (bird counts, stream sampling, invasive species monitoring), restoration or conservation plans (seed collection, native plant propagation and planting), and education (developing signs or brochures, leading nature hikes, outreach activities).

UCANR selected the Arboretum to be one of the first pilot programs to focus on the ecosystems around the state. Learn about the Arboretum's 2016 Cal Nat Program and how to make it grow: so far this year, alumni have contributed over $4000 to sponsor UCSC Cal Nat students!