Ask a Naturalist: About Naturalists

Why does Hardberger Park have a Park Naturalist?

By Wendy Leonard, PHP Park Naturalist

Hardberger Park is in the demographic heart of the city and is surrounded by development. This urban setting has presented many challenges to the ecological “health” of the park. Many people in the neighboring communities install landscape plants that are exotic and can escape cultivation and form self-propagating populations within the park. These plants compete with and will eventually exclude good, native plants. Also, this urban setting presents challenges for wildlife. In 2012, two black vultures, one crested caracara (Mexican eagle), a baby cotton-tail rabbit, and a cotton-tail rabbit family in the dog park were all rescued and either taken to a rehabilitation facility or relocated to a safer area. It is the Park Naturalist job to make sure that native plant communities are maintained and not compromised by exotic invasive plants and that any wildlife issues are dealt with in a timely, humane manner.

What does a Park Naturalist do?

Most park naturalists in general are tasked with developing and conducting interpretive programs for either local, state, or national parks. These programs are focused on the historical or natural features of the park. The natural areas within San Antonio have two Education Coordinators that facilitate this need, so the majority of my job consists of managing plant communities to maintain maximum species diversity. Most of this work targets non-native, invasive plants. I also monitor rare and endangered species like the bracted twistflower, the golden-cheeked warbler, and the black-capped vireo.  I conduct surveys on these species as well as on karst/cave features to satisfy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requirements. Finally, I help manage wildlife at the park including certain bird species and feral hogs.