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.

CSP_Logo_web_quality Michigan 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 completing:

  1. Classroom and field-based training led by experts in various fields of conservation and natural resources, including lectures, interactive learning and field experiences; Self-paced online learning modules provided via Michigan State University’s Desire2Learn (D2L) course management interface; and
  2. 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 Michigan 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.

The Conservation Stewards Program consists of the following components, totaling approximately 45+ hours of instruction

Seven in-person sessions held on one evening a week from 6 - 9 p.m.  (21 hours of instruction):

  • Program Overview & Michigan Ecosystems Overview
  • Michigan Conservation Heritage
  • Ecological Foundations
  • Terrestrial Ecosystems : Forestlands, Grasslands
  • Ecosystem Threats
  • Aquatic Ecosystems: Lakes, Streams, Wetlands
  • Capstone Projects and Commencement
  • Conservation Planning

Two full-day Saturday field sessions held from approximately 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (14 hours of instruction):

  • Terrestrial Field Experience
  • Aquatic Field Experience

Self-paced online learning modules (10-12 hours of instruction):

  • Michigan’s Unique Conservation Heritage and Making Choices for Natural Resources Management
  • Ecological Foundations
  • Forests and Forest Ecosystems and Management
  • Inland Lake Ecosystems and Management

Program requirements:

  • 45+ hours of basic ecological training including attendance at in-person sessions, participation in online learning modules, and completion of required assignments, activities, learning reflections and program evaluations.

  • 40 hours of conservation service in the first year. These opportunities will be shared by local MSU Extension offices and conservation partners. An in-class Capstone Project must also be completed which counts towards the initial 40-hour service requirement.

  • In subsequent years, 8 hours of advanced training and 20 hours of volunteer service are required for annual re-certification. Training and service is selected by the participant.

Reporting Volunteer Hours

To report your volunteer hours to MSU Extension, please utilize this reporting form.

Course Offering Information

Currently there are no offerings of the Michigan Conservation Stewards Program. The program is offered yearly across the state. Program locations are determined by local interest and the availability of educators and local conservation partners. In 2020, the program will be offered in Kalamazoo, Oakland, St. Clair and Wayne counties. Sign up to get an email alert for future course offerings

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


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