About The Naturalist School


Pond studies in Iowa’s Loess Hills.

Mission: The Naturalist School teaches people to become better naturalists, citizen scientists, wild philosophers, expert conservationists, ecological activists, and enlightened planters through consilience of science and the humanities. We meet in native woodlands, savannas, wetlands, and prairies in small groups with expert ecologists, artists, philosophers, and biologists. We offer our workshops in nature centers and preserves throughout North America. The Naturalist School grew from New Tree School, founded in 2004.

Backyard Ecology at Aldo Leopold’s shack near Baraboo, Wisconsin.

History: New Tree School began in 2004 in the woods near  Mendum’s Pond, New Hampshire. Jack Phillips was invited to a small gathering at the cottage of Dr. Alex Shigo, a retired scientist with the U.S. Forest Service and the author of many seminal books on tree systems biology. Shigo taught that trees can only be understood as a system within a system, as members of a vast and largely unseen web of organic relationships. Shigo took Phillips under his wing and charged him and a handful of other educators to teach students and professionals about tree communities by getting them out of the classroom and into the woods.

Shigo taught wonder (1)

Rhizosphere studies in New Hampshire with Alex Shigo, shortly before his passing in 2006.

Kevin T.Smith, Alex Shigo’s colleague and successor at the USFS Northeast Research Station, has been a vital presence in New Tree School since the beginning. After Shigo’s sudden and tragic passing in 2006, Dr. Smith continued as our mentor, supporter, and friend. Togther we have walked the New England woods, dissected trees in Maniboba, offered lab sessions in Nevada, and explored ecology in Iowa’s Loess Hills.


In the field with Dr. Kevin Smith near Durham, New Hampshire

Workshops in the early years were intended primarily for arborists and were held in New England and several Canadian provinces, in addition to our home base at Hitchcock Nature Center in Iowa’s Loess Hills. As New Tree School grew and evolved, educational events broadened to include naturalists, artists, architects, writers, philosophers, and nature lovers in the study of nature in diverse ecosystems. New Tree School blossomed into The Naturalist School. However, the core principles did not change. We teach nature through immersion in nature and through a consilience of ecology and creativity.


Ornithology class at raptor banding station, Hitchcock Nature Center near Honey Creek, Iowa


Jack Phillips and students conduct a tree autopsy in Cambridge, Ontario.

The Naturalist School partners with nonprofit agencies and government bodies throughout North America. Our 2017 partners include The Aldo Leopold Foundation, Loess Hills Alliance, City of Winnipeg, Golden Hills RC&D, Tallgrass Prairie Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium, Arboriculture Canada Training and Education, and several Iowa and Nebraska County governments and conservation boards.