Citizen Science: How YOU Can Help Answer Hard Questions and Solve Tough Problems

In 2013 more than 200 volunteers donated 15,000 hours of their time, sweat, and brainpower to important on-the-ground conservation and restoration work. It was quite a year for the Volunteer Program!

We all had tons of fun making new friends, reconnecting with old ones, and seeing some incredibly beautiful places along the way. Here is a rundown of your accomplishments for the year, followed by a quick look toward a very exciting and promising future together.

Over the course of our 2013 field season, our volunteers did great things in three large, charismatic, and ecologically important landscapes.

Utah Forests

Utah: Volunteers building fences to protect sensitive habitat

Volunteers reading vegetation transects to inform grazing management plans

First on this list is Utah forests, where we started the year by closing six miles of illegal roads and travel routes, defending the integrity of an important roadless area. Utah volunteers built two fences on private lands to protect sensitive habitat and protect passive restoration sites for use as reference areas – which are badly needed to see what it looks like when areas are left ungrazed.

Citizen scientists found boreal toads in a half-dozen previously-undocumented streams, helping the cause of this sensitive species. We continued our efforts to locate areas for beaver reintroduction, while field-testing a model for rapidly identifying more such areas across the state. These same volunteers installed a flow control device to prevent beavers from blocking the outlet of a reservoir on Boulder Mountain, allowing them to stay in the area so they can breed and spread to new areas on the mountain where they are badly needed.

Lastly in Utah, we trained two groups of “badass botanists” who not only collected data to help improve grazing practices and inform upcoming grazing management plan changes, but trained other volunteer botanists, in turn. Now that’s citizen science in action!

Kane and Two-Mile Ranch

Installing a motion-sensing camera to track and validate wildlife

Installing a motion-sensing camera to track and validate wildlife

Another area where volunteers were crucial this year was the Kane and Two-Mile Ranch, where the Trust holds grazing permits on 850,000 acres of public lands. Here, citizen scientists installed and monitored fifty motion-sensing cameras to track and validate wildlife movement and habitat connectivity.

Check out some of these photos to get an idea of what’s out there, and imagine the feeling of excitement knowing who your wild neighbors are! We monitored vegetation, soil, and bird communities to understand the effects of exotic plant removal in Paria Canyon.

Volunteers continued our work updating and improving miles of fence in House Rock Valley to allow pronghorn to move more freely and get to food, water, and breeding grounds.

Finally, our volunteers – many of them specially trained and extremely competent botanists – collected more than 1000 new botanical specimens and documented 32 new populations of rare, endemic plants to better understand the native flora of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

Again, that’s what we mean by citizen science!

Native America

Solar electricity systems installed for Navajo

One of two solar electricity systems installed for Navajo residents

The third place where volunteers made a big difference in 2013 was on the Native American lands of northern Arizona.

Our volunteers helped local Navajo communities implement traditional farming practices at Tolani Lake and North Leupp Family Farms – including greenhouse work that will help feed people who use the Tolani Lake Senior Center. We helped implement the 10th annual Paatuwaqatsi “Water is Life” run, a 30-mile ultra-marathon to honor the sacredness of water and running in Hopi culture. A highlight of the weekend was our former intern, Andrew Belus, setting a new record time for the event!

Finally, our volunteers installed two solar electricity systems for Navajo residents, while also learning firsthand about regional energy challenges and inequalities. There are few feelings quite as powerful as standing, literally, in the shadow of an enormous coal mine, underneath huge power transmission lines, and seeing the lights go on where there was never before any electricity for the people living there. Awesome!

Arran Barnum: Utah Volunteer of the Year

Arran Barnum, Citizen Scientist

Presidents Award

The Volunteer Program was very proud to win the Arizona Forward Association’s “President’s Award for Environmental Excellence in the field of Environmental Stewardship for Northern Arizona”. We are honored to be recognized among so many other worthy efforts and organizations doing good work in Arizona.

President’s Award for Environmental Excellence

Receiving the President’s Award for Environmental Excellence in the field of Environmental Stewardship for Northern Arizona

We spend a lot of time in the trenches of environmentalism, so to be singled out for environmental stewardship means a lot to us. It was great to be joined at the event by one of our most treasured volunteers and longtime Trust member, Ken Burbridge. Ken is a true hero of ours; he has a spirit of service and has dedicated many weeks of his life to protecting the wilds of the Colorado Plateau. On the night of the awards banquet in Scottsdale, Ken had literally just returned from the field only the day before. Thanks for everything, Ken!

We are happy to recognize Arran Barnum as our Utah Volunteer of the Year! Arran was part of our first ever Bad Ass Botanists training this year, learning how to identify, appreciate and protect the plant world of southern Utah forests. Hailing from Moab, she jumped right into the world of plant identification and long hours reading vegetation transects, helping Mary O’Brien and our Utah Forests Program to improve grazing practices and inform upcoming grazing management plan changes. Arran, you define the term citizen scientist – here’s to you!

A Look Toward the Future

2014 will be a busy and exciting year for our volunteers and our citizen science work. One important item to be ready for is the public comment period for the first-ever grazing management plan for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This is a big development! Just think of it – the Staircase has never had a grazing plan since its creation over a decade ago. Now, the Trust is working hard to get an alternative plan included in the upcoming Environmental Impact Statement, and you can help, From January 1-13, 2014 we will ask those volunteers who have worked on grazing-related projects to submit comments in support of our alternative. So stay tuned for the details!

Years of data that our volunteers worked long and hard to collect are currently being used by all three national forests in southern and central Utah to amend their livestock grazing plans – for the first time in 28 years!

In 2014, look for more ways to get (and remain) involved in this, and other, fun and crucial work. We will be training individuals to report what they observe while out on the land via some new initiatives: Allotment Watch, Beaver Watch, Badass Botany, and Rocky Mountain Goat Watch. We will teach volunteers how to collect quality data and photos, and then send useful reports to the U.S. Forest Service and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Where do you see beavers and their handiwork? Where do you see healthy, diverse, native vegetation, trampled springs, meadows pockmarked by hummocks, overgrazed grasses, dusty wallows dug into the alpine slopes by Rocky Mountain goats? Or where do you see Rocky Mountain goats at all?

We will also have opportunities to get involved in citizen science on the Kane and Two-Mile landscape in northern Arizona, including spring restoration, experimental climate adaptation work, exotic species monitoring, and wildlife camera trapping.

Clearly, 2014 is shaping up to be a busy and exciting season for citizen science volunteerism. We will be asking more from our volunteers than ever, and we know you will be up to the challenge. Be on the lookout for our trip schedule in January, and always remember how much you mean to us. We are all in this together, and together we truly can change the world.

 

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