- Author: Gregory Ira
Gratitude, like all good things, is cultivated. For much of the year, we are running from one deadline to the next and the time for reflection is scarce. Thanksgiving is one of the few times during the year when the conditions and context put gratitude squarely on our table and it feels delightful. But, what if there was a way for us to experience that same feeling of gratitude all year long?
Can our work as California Naturalists help us rediscover gratitude with greater intention? As naturalists we share a few traits that might help us. We value the natural world, we seek to observe it, we reflect on our experiences, and we often share our wonder and discoveries with others. I would argue that these are also important elements of gratitude – especially sharing.
For many California Naturalists, sharing comes in the form of volunteer service. If we reframe this service as not simply giving time, but giving thanks, we can cultivate gratitude. Whether you volunteer as a California Naturalist, share your discoveries and experiences with friends and family, or give to a cause that has special meaning to you, you are not only providing a service to others, you expressing gratitude and extending the best tradition from the third Thursday of November.
On behalf of our entire CalNat team, please accept our most sincere thanks for making the UC California Naturalist Program a part of your world.
Collective impact isn't new, but the concept of collaboration by organizations from different sectors around with a common goal to solve or address a complex social or environmental problem has gained traction since it was articulated in 2011 by a team at the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The UC California Naturalist program network is an example of a collective impact. Since its inception, it has multiplied the effort of Brenda Kyle and others like her. To date, 56 different organizations from around the state have engaged over 80 instructors, who have trained 3,720 participants just like Brenda. Certified naturalists have gone on to make over 73,000 educational contacts and provide over 168,000 hours of volunteer service worth an estimated $4.3 Million to the state of California. These are the outputs of a diverse array of individuals from across the state whose one commonality is a pin and certificate that says, California Naturalist.
While the California Naturalist network addresses the five conditions originally outlined for collective impact (i.e., a common agenda, shared measurement, reinforcing activities, continuous communication and backbone support), a new opportunity has emerged that will further strengthen our work. Our new Climate Stewards course is helping us more systematically and intentionally adapt to new priorities, better connect to those with lived experiences, and strengthen the engagement of our partners. The course itself is a reflection of the growing demand for the same research-based approaches to education and service that characterizes the original California Naturalist course. Our recent Climate Stewards Initiative needs assessment reached over 500 individuals helping us better address the needs of those individuals in communities across the state who will participate in the course. Finally, modifications to our Program Advisory Committee have increased the voice and engagement of our external partners and reaffirmed our role as a backbone organization for the network. In short, the momentum behind the new Climate Stewards course is helping to elevate and catalyze the larger California Naturalist collective impact network of which it is a part.
Collective impact is both a process and a result. The collaborative structures create a framework for coordination, and the aggregated numbers help describe the scale of our impact. But the rich colors, shapes, and details of collective impact come from the stories of naturalists like Brenda Kyle. These stories are now being captured and shared in an online Story Map that highlights the impact of California Naturalists from around the state. We hope you'll also want to share your story and help us complete the mosaic of environmental stewardship that is growing around the state and essential to maintaining a thriving, sustainable, and resilient place that many of us call home.
Have you ever been on a walk and observed an interesting plant you couldn't identify? Encountered an unusual insect trapped in your home? Have you wondered why you used to see certain species in nature and you don't now? Or have you thought it might be neat to compile a species list for a special place, like a favorite park or your own backyard? All California Naturalists already know that there's an app (and website) for all that!
What is iNaturalist?
The free iNaturalist app is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature. Available for android, iPhone, and by a website, iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society that allows users to upload one or more pictures, provide a location, and make relevant notes like whether the subject is captivate or wild.
In response, the artificial intelligence in the app suggests what the species might be based on visual similarity and whether the species has been observed nearby. Members and organizations can set up projects and download data within defined taxa or locations to follow presence and absence, abundance, seasonality and change over time.
Verified observations are sent to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, an international network and research infrastructure funded by the world's governments and aimed at providing anyone, anywhere, open access to data about all types of life on earth. Valuable open-source data is available to aid scientific research, government and conservation organizations, and the interested public. Nearly instant gratification for species ID combined with the ability of members to contribute to a greater good whenever they venture outdoors are huge motivators for much of the existing iNaturalist community, which currently exceeds one million users and 14 million observations.
iNaturalist observations and the upcoming City Nature Challenge
How does it work?
The City Nature Challenge takes place April 26-29, 2019. During this window, anyone can contribute observations viaiNaturalist. There will are also be a variety of events organized to help cities win the challenge. Cities are competing against each other to see which city can make the most observations of nature, find the most species, and engage the most people. At the end of the observation window on April 29, other events will be held to help participants identify and complete their observations iniNaturalist.
How can we participate in 2019?
The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' California Naturalist program is teaming up with the UC Davis School of Education's Center for Community and Citizen Science, UC Davis Evolution and Ecology Department, and other partners in the region to put the Sacramento region in the competition for the first time. Stay updated and learn more information about how to join the fun on the Sacramento City Nature Challenge website as we add events. Experienced and beginner naturalists alike are invited to attend these events.
For those outside of the Sacramento region, participate in the Natural History Museum of LA County's Los Angeles County City Nature Challenge, San Diego Natural History Museum's San Diego County City Nature Challenge, and the California Academy of Sciences' San Francisco Bay Area City Nature Challenge. All you have to do is log in to your account and join the project. Any observations uploaded from within the project boundaries from April 26-29 are automatically contributed to the challenge.
Last year, 6 percent of the nearly 7 billion total observations uploaded to iNaturalist were contributed during the City Nature Challenge, making the challenge the single-most uploaded period of 2018. With the City Nature Challenge growing internationally in 2019, even more observations will be added in the hopes of getting more people outside, engaging with the natural spaces within urban environments, spending time with fellow nature enthusiasts and community organizations, and learning and contributing to science.