FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Although they come from different backgrounds, they share the same goal, to become a certified South Carolina master naturalist. And the on-post field trip Friday provided by Fort Jackson’s Wildlife Branch brought 12 adult students one step closer to achieving their goal.

The 2011 Midlands Master Naturalist Course is part of a statewide program coordinated by Clemson University. This year’s class is hosted by the South Carolina Wildlife Federation. The course combines 12 days of outdoor training during May and June with an additional 30 hours of approved nature-oriented volunteer service.

“The mission of the program is to create a corps of citizen volunteers well-trained in the fundamentals of natural history, nature interpretation and the interface of humans and nature. This empowers them to contribute their time and talents to responsible, science-based environmental stewardship,” said Austin Jenkins, course instructor.

Jenkins is a naturalist who teaches biology at University of South Carolina- Sumter, and has had a hand in graduating three classes of master naturalists.

Josh Arrants and Stanley Rikard, both in the Directorate of Public Work’s Wildlife Branch, began coordinating with Jenkins earlier this year and offered to provide a class field trip for the course.

“American kestrels and Eastern screech owls nest in our 60 manmade nest boxes in May,” said Arrants, “We felt this was a great opportunity to have the class observe and assist in banding the nestlings.”

The class also learned about the Longleaf pine ecosystem on Fort Jackson, and the plant and animal communities the installation supports. Included was a briefing on endangered plant and animal species located here, and how Army training is compatible with natural resource management.

“I did not realize until the field trip that the installation has such broad wildlife management programs in place,” said Anne Goodall, a student. “I’m very impressed with the Army’s training of Soldiers while at the same time caring for our state’s natural resources.”

In addition to visiting Fort Jackson, the class will take field trips to Landsford Canal State Park, Congaree Swamp National Park, Goodale State Park, Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, Columbia Canal Plant and other locations within an hour of Columbia.

“We greatly appreciate the opportunity to come and have a hands-on experience banding American kestrels today. This was an activity that we did not have available to us at our other field trip locations,” Jenkins said. “My students now have a better understanding of the installation’s natural resource programs, and the importance the Army places on managing these training lands.”