Texas Master Naturalist Program Policy Updates
First and foremost, all Texas Master Naturalist events, meetings, service projects must be compliant with all state, county and local public health proclamations and ordinances. Safety is our guiding principle for operations.
Current Guidelines for Texas Master Naturalist Chapters
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are statewide sponsors of the Texas Master Naturalist Program. As such we must adhere to the policies set forth by both of our sponsoring agencies.
Each county will be assigned a risk level based on metrics including case incidence, positivity percentage in the past 7 days, hot spots and a rapid rise in cases. That risk level will define a set of parameters that must be followed for ANY face-to-face interaction outside of office operations. The guidance in this communication is through December 6, 2020.
NOTE: Face coverings are required at all events. All facilities of The Texas A&M University System require the use of facial coverings.
Red Level: Counties with two of three factors of positivity rate of 8% or more, or a rapid rise in cases or a hot spot (indicated in pink/red)
- No face-to-face Extension-hosted or Extension-sponsored events.
- No guest speaking or presenting at other entities’ events.
- No overnight events.
- No travel is approved to these counties.
- Essential training related to continuing education and emergency response may be approved by the executive associate director on a case-by-case basis
Yellow Level: Counties with a positivity rate of 8% or more, OR a rapid rise in cases OR a hotspot (indicated in yellow/orange)
- Group meetings with a limit of 10 people at 75% capacity of space or less are allowed only if social distancing can be practiced.
- No overnight events.
- Seek alternative methods to deliver face-to-face meetings and educational programs.
- Essential training related to continuing education and emergency response may be approved by the executive associate director on a case-by-case basis.
Green Level: Counties not listed at the Yellow or Red Level
- Group meetings with a limit of 50 people at 75% capacity or less are allowed only if social distancing can be practiced. If greater than 50 attendees, a preparedness plan must be submitted and approved by the supervisor. (Employees in large offices do not count against this max if they are not part of the meeting and remain socially distanced.)
- All overnight events require a submission of a preparedness plan that is approved by the supervisor.
- AgriLife Extension requires a screening form for each participant at day youth events and all overnight events and programs.
- Daily temperature checks are required at all overnight events.
PREVIOUS COVID GUIDELINES
The following update was made on October 30th for COVID 19 operational guidelines for AgriLife Extension:
- County offices follow continuity of operations plan from the county but may also incorporate the health and safety guidance from AgriLife Extension.
- Group meetings of 75% capacity of space or fewer people are allowed only if social distancing can be practiced with a limited capacity of 50 people.
- Face coverings are required at all events, unless the county hosting the event is exempt per the Governor’s Resolution GA-29 on July 2, 2020.
- Applies to BOTH Indoor & Outdoor Programming.
UPDATE – 8.7.20
The following update to the July 3rd Transitioning Back Document referred to below was shared on Friday August 7th. Points most relevant to Texas Master Naturalist Chapters are highlighted in yellow below.
UPDATE – 7.3.20
On July 3rd, 2020, AgriLife Extension released an updated Transitioning Back Guidance document, linked below. This guidance document makes updates to the wave timeline for the May 20th Reopening Guidance document and updates additional guidance for youth, outdoor events and reporting. As always, Texas Master Naturalists are required to follow these protocols and their local ordinances set by county and city officials.
TMN Chapters should follow the three waves of guidance outlined in the AgriLIfe Reopening Guidance Document and summarized below. Additional guidance for Master Naturalist Return to Service can be found in Appendix F of the attached as well. TMN Volunteers will adhere to guidelines that apply to employees, office and events by wave and as set by local county offices. Please also make note of the Face to Face Program Preparedness Plan that starts on Page 12 of the attached as it contains guidance that all AgriLife county offices will follow in preparing for events during the next few months.
Wave 1 – Beginning May 18th
• No gatherings until Wave 2 is in place.
• Local offices should consider setting a schedule with rotations if a large number of volunteers are frequently present.
Wave 2 – Beginning June 1st
• Group meetings of 10 or fewer people only if social distancing can be practiced.
• Additional volunteer may return to work with the office capacity not exceeding 50% but should practice social distancing. Wearing masks is encouraged when in public spaces.
Wave 3 – Delayed until AUGUST 1st
• Group meetings of 25% capacity of space or fewer people only if social distancing can be practiced.
• All volunteers may be at work site but should practice social distancing. Wearing masks is encouraged when in public spaces..
Also to note, some chapters may choose to interpret these restrictions at a higher level based on local county ordinances or guidance. Chapter Boards may also choose to restrict volunteer service projects based on exposure risk potential at sites where social distancing or individual safety may be difficult to manage. Chapters may not, however, loosen their restrictions based on a desire to “get out” – those guidelines outlined above and attached are the minimum level of restrictions (& maximum occupancy levels).
- https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/coronavirus/ – a resource page for updates
Certification Requirements – 2020 Events & Situations
- The mission of the Texas Master Naturalist Program is to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities for the State of Texas.
- Key Tenets of our Program – are a ‘Masters’-level Basic Training & Volunteer Service
- The requirement for a full 40 hours of Basic Training and 40 hours of Volunteer Service will not be changed for 2020.
- Exceptions will be made for Advanced Training in 2020 as described below, but 8 hours minimum will still be required.
Basic Training Requirements – 2020 Events & Situations
- For chapters in the midst of a spring basic training class and who choose to continue Spring Basic Training Classes Online
- Host remaining class subjects through Zoom/Online platforms
- Field based education delayed until shutdown lifted
- Field based training waived for 2020 spring basic training classes. But encourage members to audit field courses in future years.
- Coordinate training opportunities with nearby/regional TMN chapters
- Take advantage of presentations from state office* (*pending)
- Encourage members to audit future in-person basic courses for reinforcement of subject matter
- MUST include question/answer and discussion period with presenter
- Make-up exceptions for basic training courses need to be submitted to chapter leadership or to the state office for input (i.e if a trainee misses an online training day, how do they make it up?)
Advanced Training Annual Requirements – 2020 INTERIM POLICY
- Online-based training and webinars will accepted for all of the minimum of 8 hours of advanced training hours required for certification. Additional AT hours can be earned through distance or in person courses once shutdown lifted.
- We encourage members to consider attending in person advanced trainings in the fall once travel & health restrictions lift.
- We encourage chapters to host multi-chapter or regional advanced training webinars/online programs to limit stress on presenters.
- We encourage the priority of those online training/webinars that are live, allow for speaker/audience interaction and allow for questions/discussion at the end.
- We encourage chapters to host post-training discussion groups if speaker isn’t available for questions/discussion.
- We encourage limits to those advanced trainings that are pre-recorded, not live or not interactive in their online format. No “learning by YouTube”.
Volunteer Service Requirements – 2020 Events & Situations
- There will be no change in the minimum requirements for volunteer service for certification/recertification in 2020
- But there are some options to switch to distance service:
- Write a newsletter article spotlighting a local SGCN species or make a presentation to give in the fall.
- Verify or assist with curating observations in iNaturalist or eBird * (*more guidance on CitSci volunteer service coming soon.)
- Contributing to the chapters blog/newsletter
- Planning your chapter’s 20th anniversary events/celebration/etc.
- Planning for fall trainings, ATs and projects
- Grant writing
- Updating chapter websites
- Updating chapter brochures and outreach materials
- Reviewing/making comments to the TMN bylaws, CMOP and COH documents for possible considerations to state program office should consider for 2020 updates.
- Join a planning committee for the TMN Annual Meeting and events.
- Assist leadership with managing your chapter, going through and organizing chapter files whether they are electronic or paper files.
- Encourage your members to share their service ideas with us to share across the state!
- IMPORTANT NOTE – ALL volunteer service MUST meet local and federal guidelines for limited travel and social distancing. Local Guidelines currently vary city to city and county to county.
- Some considerations – We encourage members to carefully consider their engagement in service at parks, nature centers, gardens even if following distancing and cleaning guidelines – consider your travel there (i.e stopping at a gas station) or the potential safety situations when working by yourself at a remote site. It is recommended that these types of service practice caution and social distancing guidelines as listed above.
COVID-19 Guidelines and Resources
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose significant challenges and is likely to remain a concern for the next several months. On March 19th, the Governor of Texas signed the executive order limiting all social gatherings to less than 10 people and several local City/County authorities have followed suit with a more restrictive order to shelter in place. We encourage you and your chapters to follow these guidelines and be socially responsible in our programming for the next few weeks by helping to minimize the spread and impacts of this novel virus. This includes cancelling all face to face events, programs and meetings for the immediate future. Online and distance based programming methods are being explored and many TMN Chapters are beginning to use these platforms to host basic/advanced training events and chapter meetings.
Other Key Guidelines from Texaa A&M AgriLife Extension Service:
- People, businesses and communities should immediately undertake hygiene, cleanliness and sanitation practices that are accessible, affordable and known to be effective against COVID-19.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- People who are known to have, or are under investigation or monitoring, for COVID-19, should adhere to the direction provided to them by duly authorized persons, including public health officials. Failure to abide by such direction may result in involuntary quarantine or isolation for the purposes of preventing further community spread of COVID-19.
- Wash hands often for 20 seconds and encourage others to do the same.
- If no soap and water are available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue away.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Disinfect surfaces, buttons, handles, knobs, and other places touched often
These actions, are necessary to slow the spread of the COVID 19 virus, reduce the burden on the healthcare system and provide researchers more time to learn about this virus and create strategies to combat and defeat it.
We are all very appreciative of the work you are doing, on behalf of our state, our clientele and our natural resource communities. Please, take care of yourself, your family and friends. If you feel sick, take actions to not spread the disease, especially among the elderly or those with underlying health challenges. Prepare, but don’t panic! Additional resources are available at http://texashelp.tamu.edu , https://dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus/ and https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
Thank you for your continues support and leadership!
Please let us know if you have any questions regarding these closures and cancellations.
Michelle and Mary Pearl