About The Naturalist School


Pond studies in Iowa’s Loess Hills.

Mission: The Naturalist School teaches people to become better naturalists, nature writers, wild philosophers, 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 ecologists, artists, writers, 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.


Tree autopsy with local arborists, Cambridge Ontario

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 in the Missouri River watershed in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.  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.



The Naturalist School partners with nature centers and nonprofit agencies throughout North America. Our mission, vision, and resources enhance the educational programs of our partners – especially in the areas of adult ecological education and native tree-planting programs. In short, we help people become better naturalists and planters. The following nature centers and agencies belong to our friends and partners network:

Living Prairie Museum (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
Pottawattamie County Iowa Conservation Board
Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium
Aldo Leopold Foundation (Baraboo, Wisconsin)
Prairie Fire Newspaper/Nebraska Book Source
Starhill Forest Arboretum (Petersburg, Illinois)
Delaware Valley College (Doylestown, Pennsylvania)
Loess Hills Alliance
Harrison County Iowa Conservation
Arboriculture Canada Training and Education
City of Winnipeg Urban Forestry
Iowa Native Plant Society
Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service (Durham, New Hampshire)
Golden Hills RC&D
Trees Winnipeg
Iowa Prairie Network
Gilchrist Foundation



If your community or nature center would like to host The Naturalist School for a workshop, contact Jack Phillips at thenaturalistschool@gmail.com.