Naturalist Q&A: Kao Thao

What do you do?

As a park naturalist I do several naturalist programs to teach people about the state parks, the DNR and our natural resources. Basically it’s environmental education. I am also very involved in an outreach program to minorities and underprivileged people in our communities. That is actually my specialty as a naturalist. I work with several different organizations regarding getting more people out to the parks. I’ve been a park naturalist for 11 years – since 1998. I went to college at the University of Minnesota and earned a degree in natural resources – fisheries and wild life.

What inspired you to become a park naturalist?

Everything! I love the outdoors, and I want people to care about the outdoors as much as I do. People think we have unlimited natural resources, but actually they are very limited. I want people to understand and appreciate what our natural resources are so everybody can enjoy them. The beauty of our state is an inspiration in itself. If people don’t save, don’t learn and don’t understand what our natural resource are and how to protect them, then they won’t have them in the future. My inspiration and motivation is to teach other people.

What is the best aspect of your job?

Basically the teaching and making people understand about our parks and natural resources. Turning people’s thinking process toward environmental protection is important to me. If we don’t save our natural resources, if we don’t learn how to do that, they will be gone when we need them. The best aspect of my job is just being outside and teaching people.

Over the years, what projects have been the most rewarding to you?

All of them. To get the minority population involved with natural resources is very rewarding. Many of these communities don’t know about environmental protection. These people come from countries that have no regulations on environmental protection. They have no stewardship, no care of species. To see that I am changing some thinking processes of people that originally have little information on how to care for the environment means a lot to me. I just keep trying to push a little more in depth understanding for these people.

What advice can you give others who  would like to pursue a similar career?
I’ll give every advice, every encouragement! Got for it! Being a park naturalist is a very rewarding job. Knowing you make a difference not only in a community now, but for the future as well. . . stewardship. . . preventing species from depleting. . .  the education itself and being a part of it is priceless. If anyone has any interest in being a part of that, I say go for it! Pursue it! I would love to see a lot more people show interest in our state’s parks and natural resources!


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