Citizen Science

What do we mean by “citizen science”? Citizen Science efforts are those projects that use trained volunteers and scientists together to answer local questions, inform natural resource decisions, advance scientific understanding, or improve environmental education. More generally, citizen science includes efforts to educate local community members about issues through outreach and field-based events. They may be one-time events or include repeated monitoring over time.

Why should we do citizen science? The Forest Landscape Restoration Act specifically requires a multi-party monitoring program for each CFLRP project. The benefits of a multi-party approach are to 1) leverage the expertise and capacity of resources outside the Forest Service, 2) provide an unbiased evaluation of forest restoration treatments, and 3) to provide educational experiences on forest restoration for local citizens. The SWCC Monitoring Committee has identified public learning about natural resource management as a parallel goal to understanding treatment effectiveness throughout the monitoring program.

Highlighted Projects:

 

 

Rapid Forest Assessment

We developed a Rapid Forest Assessment (RFA) approach for monitoring key characteristics of conifer-dominated forests. We have permanently installed vegetation plots in several management locations in the SW Crown. Plot locations were chosen randomly using a GIS program and are re-measured annually by local elementary, middle, and high school students.

We chose our variables and methods to maximize field efficiency while maintaining ease of analysis and understanding. We reduced the number of variables that need to be precisely measured by “binning” or categorizing responses into a few classes. Variables measured include trees, fuels, woody debris, ground cover, horizontal cover, wildlife pellets, weeds, and soil disturbance. This work is complemented by a curriculum that provides a “real world” science experience for students and other citizen scientists to explore a range of topics in their local ecosystems. 

The project allows students to get hands-on experience in: collecting data in the field, entering the data and checking its quality, analyzing the data through graphs and summaries, and interpreting the data to draw meaningful conclusions. Students learn about forest succession, other ecosystem processes (fire, insect-caused tree mortality), and forest management. The data generated can help communities, and students, track changes in their forests through time and provides a connection to the ecosystems in which they live. It can emphasize the sensitivity of these systems to changes in climate and management.

 Montana Conservation Crew helping with the Rapid Forest Assessment in the Swan Valley.

Montana Conservation Crew helping with the Rapid Forest Assessment in the Swan Valley.

 Debbie Anderson of the Montana Discovery Foundation gives an introduction during a field day with SWCC partners and high school students from Lincoln.

Debbie Anderson of the Montana Discovery Foundation gives an introduction during a field day with SWCC partners and high school students from Lincoln.

 

Publication: A Rapid Forest Assessment for Multiparty Monitoring Across Landscapes. 2015. Davis, C.R., R.T. Belote, M.A. Williamson, A.J. Larson, and B.E. Esch. Journal of Forestry 114(2):125-133.

 
 Example of graph produced by students after data collection.

Example of graph produced by students after data collection.

 

Stream Monitoring

Changing climate conditions can have direct and immediate effects on streams. The amount and timing of flows, water temperature, and associated water quality variables can be particularly vulnerable to change in mountain snowmelt streams. Communities in the Southwestern Crown of the Continent depend on such streams and the lakes they feed for natural, recreational, economic, and aesthetic values key to community vitality, sense of place, and way of life.  Yet there is limited information available to those communities on the amount and quality of the water and of any trends in water supply.  We have developed a network of citizen science stream monitoring sites in and around three of the largest communities in the Southwestern Crown. Our goals are to engage people in assessing natural resources in their communities; collect long term data that can be useful in making decisions about water use, fisheries management, and land use and restoration; and promote awareness of the potential impacts of climate change in the region.

Students and teachers work with community members to collect intensive, high quality data on streamflow, temperature, and turbidity in important streams in their area. Associated curriculum helps students understand why and how to collect data and how to analyze them to make sense of the information. Community volunteers also collected nutrient and turbidity data on additional streams. 

Participants collect and analyze intensive, high quality data on streamflow, temperature, and turbidity in important streams in their communities.  We work with participants to:

  1. Install a permanent stream gauge and a stilling well with data loggers to record water depth and temperature continuously;
  2. Collect water samples and measure turbidity at different flow levels;
  3. Measure actual flow 8-10 times per year;
  4. Create a rating curve to predict flow at all depths, and
  5. Create a hydrograph of streamflow throughout the year.
 Training teachers to measure stream flow.

Training teachers to measure stream flow.