- Author: Rebecca Miller-Cripps
Everywhere you turn these days, the term “citizen science” is in use. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) dedicates a page of its website to the topic. In July, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) published a supplemental journal devoted wholly to the topic of citizen science—its history, current status, and potential for the future. When staying with friends last week, I had my morning coffee in a mug labeled “Central Valley Winter Raptor Count – 2008-2011,” an excellent example of citizen science.
But, what do we mean by “citizen science”? Historically, the practice of involving members of the public in various scientific projects was viewed as an opportunity to educate the public and increase “science literacy.” However, I suggest that the definition has changed. Today, citizen science is the practice of using non-academic laypersons, members of the public, volunteers, to assist researchers in gathering data and monitoring areas of concern. And, in many cases, these volunteers are experts in their areas of interest.
As an example, weather data has been accumulated for years by farmers and community volunteers—reporting temperature, planting, harvest, and precipitation information—thus compiling a long-term body of data. Other examples of citizen science include the Great Backyard Bird Count that gathers data for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, and Cornell’s Backyard FeederWatch. In addition, the multi-agency Sierra Nevada Conservancy-supported “Great Sierra River Clean-Up” and the many stream teams that monitor local water quality throughout the state provide hands-on citizen involvement in ecosystem protection.
Weed incursion into an ecosystem is often human-vectored. Weeds follow people; weeds follow roads. In the Sierra Nevada, especially at disturbed sites along tourist corridors into recreational areas and National Parks, weeds are creating a problem for public
The technology exists to engage citizens in monitoring and removal of noxious weeds on easily-accessible sites. Smart phone applications can be loaded onto a mobile phone and utilized by tourists hiking, fishing, or camping in the mountains. A simple search on my smart phone applications page yielded 15 invasive plant identification and reporting programs—most are FREE—specific to various regions of the United States and North America. In October, 2011, The California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) offered technology training in the use of smart phone apps for weed identification and tracking. These weed-tracker apps can be used by interested participants to monitor, track, record, photograph and collect data about invasive weed occurrences a
Yosemite National Park currently uses volunteer members of the public to remove weeds. In addition, American Conservation Experience (ACE) crews are utilized to help control weed populations in the park. US Forest Service mapping projects have identified weed populations along tourist corridors that lend themselves to volunteer removal efforts.
It is time to join forces and leverage multi-agency resources to create a volunteer workday that will remove weedy infestations before they can be carried farther into forests, watersheds, and state and national parks. Let’s work together to create a “Great Sierra Weed-Out” for spring 2013.