A volunteer leader training program designed for those interested in science-based ecosystem management principles and sharing this knowledge with others to help restore and conserve ecosystems throughout Michigan communities.

MI-Conservation-stewards-website-photo-3-by-2Michigan Conservation Stewards Program participants learn about the history of conservation activities in Michigan, ecological principles, ecoregional classifications, and how to make choices to manage our natural resources. In addition to this foundation, participants learn about terrestrial ecosystems (forestlands and grasslands) and aquatic ecosystems (wetlands, lakes and streams) through classroom and in-field instruction. 

Becoming a conservation steward involves the completion of the following:

  1. Classroom and field-based training led by experts in various fields of conservation and natural resources, including lectures, interactive learning and field experiences;
  2. Self-paced online learning modules provided via Michigan State University’s Desire2Learn (D2L) course management interface which participants will complete on their own; and
  3. Volunteer service including the completion of an in-class Capstone Project related to an area of interest as well as additional community volunteer service related to restoring and conserving Michigan’s ecosystems.


The mission of the CSP is to deliver high quality, locally-based training opportunities to develop informed MI residents who will practice community-based volunteer conservation management activities.


The CSP is a collaborative effort among community-based volunteers and partners, leading conservation organizations and agencies, and educational institutions throughout Michigan. This collaboration contributes to a statewide network of dedicated, well-prepared and well-organized volunteer conservation stewards who understand, promote, support, actively contribute to and/or lead significant conservation management activities on public and private lands.

Conservation stewards will provide a strong, informed constituency for the state’s natural resources and biodiversity. These volunteers will engage in informed, scientifically-based conservation stewardship activities to enhance resource management and sustain healthy ecosystems across Michigan, including land and water management, ecological monitoring, restoration and public education. The network will be supported by an “academy” of statewide and local learning communities and colleagues from across Michigan who has expertise in the science of conservation stewardship. 

The hallmark of the Michigan CSP is that it seeks to bring together local conservation and stewardship communities through ecosystem-based training experience combined with 40 hours of required service. An in-class Capstone Project must also be completed, and counts toward the initial 40-hour service requirement. The training program provides a balanced, integrated, practical course in ecosystems, conservation and land management. Additional topics or follow-up sessions may be provided during the year according to local needs and resources. The Michigan CSP will:

  1. Provide baseline ecological and natural resource conservation knowledge and skills. MSU Extension provides the formal training program. Instructors include staff from MSUMSU Extension including Michigan Natural Features Inventory, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), experienced conservation stewards volunteers and a diverse mix of experts from local conservation organizations.
  2. Coordinate, support and recognize volunteers who take part in stewardship service on partner lands and projects. Volunteer activities include those involving ecological monitoring, management, restoration, planning and decision-making as well as conservation education and outreach.
  3. Complement ongoing restoration, ecological monitoring and resource management projects throughout Michigan.

CSP consists of the following components, totaling approximately 45+ hours of instruction

  • Seven in-person sessions will be held on one evening a week from 6 - 9 p.m.  (21 hours of instruction):
    • Program Overview
    • Michigan Conservation Heritage
    • Ecological Foundations and Ecoregions
    • Terrestrial Ecosystems : Grasslands
    • Invasive Species/Climate Change
    • Aquatic Ecosystems: Streams
    • Capstone Projects and Commencement
  • Two full-day Saturday field sessions will be held on Saturdays from approximately 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (14 hours of instruction):
    • Terrestrial Field Experience
    • Aquatic Field Experience
  • Self-paced online learning modules will cover the following content (approximately 10-12 hours):
    • Michigan’s Unique Conservation Heritage and Making Choices for Natural Resources Management
    • Ecology 101
    • Forests and Forest Ecosystems and Management 101
    • Lakes Ecosystems and Management
    • Wetland Ecosystems and Management
    • Climate Change/Invasive Species
  • Initial CSP requirements consist of:
    • 45+ hours of basic ecological training (including attendance at in-person sessions as well as completion of online learning modules, and completion of required assignments, activities, learning reflections and program evaluations).
    • 40 hours of conservation service annually (opportunities will be shared by the local office of MSU Extension and local partners as they become available). An in-class Capstone Project must also be completed, and counts toward your initial 40-hour service requirement.
    • In subsequent years, 8 hours of advanced training plus 20 hours of volunteer service are for annual recertification (as selected by the individual conservation steward).

Fall 2019 Course Offering Information

  • Washtenaw County: September 4 – November 13  
  • 7 weeknight sessions held on Wednesdays (6 p.m. - 9 p.m.) and 2 Saturday field sessions (October 5 & October 26, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.). Registration fee: $250/person. Limited partial scholarships are available.

    For more information, contact Katie Carlisle (carlislec@washtenaw.org or 734-971-6337x334) or Bindu Bhakta (bhaktabi@msu.edu or 248-858-5198).
  • Northern MichiganSeptember 10 - October 22
    • 7 weeknight sessions held on Tuesdays (6 p.m. – 9 p.m.) at Kirtland College Grayling Campus and 2 Saturday field sessions (September 21 and October 12, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.).

    • For more information, contact Julie Crick (crickjul@msu.edu or 989-275-7179).

    • View the program flyer for an overview of the course. Register now via the online system. 
  • Capital Area: September 10 – November 5
    • 7 weeknight sessions held on Tuesdays (6 p.m. - 9 p.m.) and 2 Saturday field sessions (Dates to be determined, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.). Registration: $250/person. Limited partial scholarships are available.
    • For more information, contact Georgia Peterson (petersog@msu.edu or 517-353-9435).

    • View the program flyer for an overview of the course. Register now via the online system
  • Wayne: Fall 2019 or Winter/Spring 2020 (planning currently in process)
    • For more information, contact Ron Fadoir (ronfadoir@gmail.com or 248-858-5248) or Bindu Bhakta (bhaktabi@msu.edu or 248-858-5198).

For general program information, please contact Shari Dann, MSU Extension Conservation Specialist (sldann@anr.msu.edu or 517-432-0267) or Bindu Bhakta, MSU Extension Natural Resources Educator (bhaktabi@anr.msu.edu or 248-858-5198).


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