Culture Club: Citizen Science Making a Difference in Nature
Published by: Door County Pulse, Peninsula Pulse – August 2nd, 2022
Authored by SAM HOFFMAN, Land Manager, and TONY KISZONAS, Naturalist and Researcher, The Ridges Sanctuary
Citizen science – the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the public – is alive and well at The Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor. Volunteers who become involved in this important fieldwork not only benefit by sharing their knowledge, learning new skills and meeting like-minded people, but they also have the chance to see some amazing things in the process.
Two projects in particular have allowed us to collect data to monitor change over time, and to provide educational opportunities for community residents to become better stewards of Door County: orchid restoration and stream monitoring.
The relationship between The Ridges Sanctuary and terrestrial orchids is deeply rooted, and as a component of the sanctuary’s tenet of preservation and protection, orchid-population restoration plays a significant role.
An endeavor spearheaded by citizen-science volunteers beginning in 2013 is continuing the procedures that are necessary for this restoration. Through hand-pollinating ram’s head lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium arietinum), collecting seed capsules, establishing research plots and collecting annual data, our citizen-science volunteers play an integral role in developing restoration protocols.
This citizen-science involvement extends from the field into the research lab as well. An effort to germinate orchid seeds in the lab, for example, finds our volunteers working as bench scientists. We are institutionalizing our research to include all aspects of the restoration process, including finding the methods necessary to grow orchids from seed for restoration in the Hidden Brook area of The Ridges.
In addition to developing and monitoring the 25 research plots, our Ridges volunteers established and maintain the shade houses that are currently providing habitat for three of the target restoration orchid species: showy lady’s slippers (Cypripedium reginae), yellow lady’s slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum) and grass pinks (Calopogon tuberosus). These shade houses provide research opportunities in pollination, vernalization and clonal recruitment while allowing visitors to observe these spectacular plants.
Year-round, volunteers also fight through thickets and swales to locate and identify The Ridges Sanctuary’s extant orchids. Currently, our group of “trekkers” has identified 29 species, including one identified last year as a Door County first.
Through the commitment and efforts of our citizen-science volunteers, we are working toward our goal of developing institutionalized processes and protocols to preserve and protect native plant species.
The Ridges Sanctuary actively participates in the Water Action Volunteers (WAV) citizen-science stream-monitoring program, an ongoing partnership between UW-Madison’s Division of Extension, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin volunteers and local groups.
The program aims to preserve, protect and restore Wisconsin’s 86,000-plus miles of streams and rivers by educating and empowering volunteers to gather high-quality stream data that’s useful for decision-making and natural-resource management, and to share their data, knowledge and passion for stewardship with others in their community.
Annually, more than 500 volunteers and an estimated 2,000 supervised students monitor 600-plus stream locations throughout the state – a number that has grown each year since the WAV stream-monitoring program began in 1996. Active volunteers include individuals, families, sporting groups, school and youth groups, community organizations, family farms and businesses.
Even the number of sites monitored by The Ridges Sanctuary’s affiliated volunteers has grown. Currently there are more than 20 volunteers and staff monitoring nine streams in northern Door County, including baseline monitoring stations at Hibbard Creek, Heins Creek, Peil Creek, Rieboldt Creek, Three Springs Creek, Wagon Trail Creek and Hidden Brook. Additionally, Logan Creek is a nutrient monitoring station where WAV volunteers measure phosphorus and nitrogen levels.
Volunteers monitor their stream sites for a variety of water-quality data including dissolved oxygen, temperature, transparency, stream flow, aquatic macroinvertebrates, habitat assessment, aquatic invasive species, phosphorus and chloride. Data is entered into a publicly accessible, statewide database managed by the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
The data collected through the WAV stream-monitoring program is used by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, local government agencies and conservation organizations to inform stream management across the state. This data is particularly important for managing Door County’s water resources because of the high risk of erosion and runoff that the peninsula’s dolomitic limestone geology and thin topsoil present.
The stream-monitoring and orchid-restoration programs are just two of the many ways in which members of the public can get involved in citizen science. Through involvement in scientific activities, volunteers play critical roles in increasing the environmental knowledge of our special places.
If you want to learn more about getting involved in citizen science, contact The Ridges’ land manager, Sam Hoffman, at 920.839.2802, ext. 108, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, which contributes Culture Club throughout the summer season, is a coalition of nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.