Master Naturalist helps make nature accessible through photos
Tom Hausler, at age 72, has recently taken up yet another life pursuit. After spending 20 years in the computer field (at a time when it was a new industry), another 20 years running his own tropical plant business, and a subsequent 10 years volunteering with the Hays County Master Naturalists, the longtime resident of Dripping Springs is now concentrating on nature photography—with all the zeal with which he’s approached his other projects.
Five years after first picking up a camera, Tom has garnered an Award of Excellence in the Naturescapes Photography Contest and Awards of Merit from the ViewBug online photo group. He’s been published in Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine and had his work displayed at Westcave Preserve’s Outdoor Discovery Center and other exhibits around the Hill Country.
Why the ongoing series of pursuits? “I like to keep my brain active,” he explains simply. “I enjoy learning new things.” Tom’s advice to other septuagenarians is straightforward: “Get out of the recliner, find something you like, and go do it!”
In Tom’s portfolio there are no portraits or wedding scenes—in fact, there are no humans at all. All his photos are of nature, populated by birds, rocks, running water, and elusive wildlife. Tom started out photographing a birdfeeder from the rocker on his front porch and now travels the globe capturing nature through his lens. Travels have taken him to Eduador, Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, and other Central and South American countries; he’s recently returned from Iceland with stunning photos of frozen waterfalls, ice caves, and the aurora borealis.
Nature scenes are a natural subject for a man who’s logged an astounding 2,800 hours of service in ten years as a volunteer with the Hays County Master Naturalists. (That’s more than five hours a week for a decade!) Tom completed the 40-hour training course in 2007 and burned through the required 40 hours of volunteer work within weeks.
Initially, he served on the Training Committee and as vice-president of the HCMN Board, but he discovered he enjoyed trail-building more, so he became leader of the Restoration Rangers, creating stairs and trails and controlling invasive plants at Jacob’s Well Natural Area in Wimberley. “I like making nature more accessible to people,” he explains. Tom’s also devoted hours and energy helping at Blue Hole, Charro Ranch Park, Holy Spirit Episcopal Church’s trail system, and Westcave Preserve. “It’s been a part-time job,” he admits with a grin.
The Texas Master Naturalist program is sponsored by Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers who protect and promote natural resources and natural areas in their part of the state. There are over 48 chapters statewide, with more organizing each year. Tom is a member of the Hays County chapter.
To become a Master Naturalist, volunteers complete 40 hours of classroom and field training, and commit to a minimum of 40 hours of service work annually. Most report enjoying an esprit de corps that makes the work seem like play. Tom points out that his 2,800 hours of service are dwarfed by the service of some members who have accumulated more than 10,000 volunteer hours.
As part of their volunteer work, Master Naturalists run youth education programs, remove invasive species and reintroduce native species in natural areas, operate and help improve parks and nature centers, assist with nature-inspired events in their area, and much more. They work alongside and learn from scientists, land stewards, and other experts in their fields.
Tom and his wife Emily have worked with nature on their own land on Sycamore Creek for 42 years, creating a haven for native species such as bobcat and ringtail cats—even a mountain lion. Most unusual is their large population of madrone trees. Tom credits the prevalence of wildlife and the vigor of his madrones to his tolerance, even encouragement, of juniper trees on his land.
“I grew up in Lipscomb County [in the Texas Panhandle] with no trees,” Tom explains, “so I’m very glad to have any!” He observed that the elusive madrone did better in the company of juniper and other native plants, so he carefully managed clearing on his land, leaving most of the native growth and piling cuttings, rather than burning them, to prevent erosion. Tom’s efforts in juniper management were acknowledged by the Texas A&M Forest Service with a Forestry Stewardship Award in 2008.
More than winning awards or recognition for volunteer hours, Tom is motivated simply by being out in nature. “Capturing wildlife in its habitat is challenging but rewarding,” he says. “When I’m in the field, it’s about the thrill of the chase, and I can’t wait to capture the next image.”
The Hays County Master Naturalists hold a new training class each year; go to www.haysmn.org to learn more.