Spring into citizen science!
Things start to get active in the Spring here in Door County: Forest-dwelling animals emerge from their winter slumber, flowers begin to bloom, sandhill cranes make their return, and citizen scientists…do citizen science! Citizen science – the collection and analysis of scientific data related to the natural world by the general public, is not only interesting and useful – it’s fun! Anyone can do citizen science and make a difference. Some people choose projects related to issues they are passionate about. Others choose projects that sound like fun and for the camaraderie. If you are thinking of putting on your waders and stepping into the world of citizen science, the following insights from Ridges Sanctuary citizen scientists George Cobb, Todd Rockway, and Steve and Marsha Krzyzanowski may give you a great place to start.
Briefly describe what do you do as citizen scientists:
George: I have been involved with water monitoring, sucker studies (Shedd and DNR), Crane Count, Christmas Bird Count, bird hikes, bird studies (Plover study), Breeding Bird Atlas (two very extensive 5-year studies, five years apart), both through the Ridges and with the DNR and related agencies in Michigan, as well as Shorebird Studies as a UW-GB grad student). I also am an active volunteer with Ridges separate events and projects.
Todd: My partner and I perform evaluation of local streams in Door County through the Water Action Volunteers (WAV) program as part of a water monitoring project with the Wisconsin DNR. Water monitoring includes the following measurements: temperature, water oxygen percentage, stream flow and depth, water clarity, habitat evaluation in and surrounding areas of the stream and evaluation of the aquatic species in the stream. The data we collect is submitted to the Wisconsin DNR for evaluation.
Steve: Marsha and I are involved in citizen science projects which include Native Orchid Restoration on Ridges Sanctuary property, the sandhill crane count and stream monitoring at Hein’s Creek. I am also involved in the Shedd Aquarium study on native sucker migration of Lake Michigan streams. I monitor Hein’s Creek. Most of what we do is record data on either observations or actual measurements such as dissolved oxygen, stream flow, etc. and then enter them into a database, to be used as information by the organization that is looking for this data, e.g. DNR, Shed Aquarium, Crane Foundation, Ridges Sanctuary. The Native Orchid Restoration of The Ridges Sanctuary involves plot monitoring of Rams Head Orchids that were planted in 2015. We check once each year to check on the success rate of them coming back each year. This will determine what type of site has the highest success rate for future plantings.
What is the value to you personally?
George: I find the involvement with these projects to be very satisfying and helpful in the research for various issues and situations. I believe that climate change is very much a factor in several of the projects and that idea is supported by the research. We have seen phenology changes in bird studies and hikes with food sources for the birds occurring earlier and birds appearing earlier in the seasons. This idea may be borne out by the Breeding Bird Atlas project which is now being finalized after a 2-year editing process.
Todd: Many residents of Door County get their drinking water from wells. Therefore, I am continually interested in maintaining the quality of the water we consume in Door County. The WAV experience has contributed to my understanding of the importance of protecting water resources as well as the plant and animal species dependent on clean water in Wisconsin.
Steve: The value we get from our citizen science projects is two-fold. First is the satisfaction we get from our collection of data to help in various types of research projects. This could have never been collected unless citizen science volunteers did this work.
Second, we are gaining knowledge about what is going on around us as we spend time outdoors. The knowledge we have picked up from every one of these projects helps us better understand the interconnectedness of our environment. We also get to witness a lot of things we have never seen such as sucker migration, sandhill crane nesting habits, changes of a stream environment throughout the season and the many orchids of Door County and their habitats.
What is the value to the field/greater good that volunteers provide?
George: It is my opinion that projects such as these can be very helpful to individuals and to the various agencies involved. It gives volunteers the opportunity to add resources to the groups doing the projects or studies, and thus saves money that can be used in other areas. It also gives the volunteers a sense of value and fulfilment by being involved.
Todd: The data that volunteers collect is used by the DNR as a means to determine the quality of streams, the quality of fish habitat throughout Wisconsin, whether streams are healthy or need remediation and contribute to the well-being of Door County as well as the Earth.
Steve: The volunteers that do citizen science provide a lot of data that these various agencies could not have gathered otherwise due to lack of personal. From the data collected these agencies can accumulate a lot of information that can help them make informed decisions.
Do you have any advice to someone who is just getting started?
George: There is an educational aspect to citizen science for the volunteer, the organization and agency. Everybody wins!! I love it!!
Todd: Joining the WAV program of citizen scientists is very easy to get started. The water monitoring activity requires members to work in groups of two individuals, primarily for safety as well as data recording in the field. The water monitoring equipment is provided by the DNR and The Ridges Sanctuary. Some of the measurements are performed on the bank of the stream. However, additional measurements are performed while wading in the stream. Therefore, hip waders are necessary for wading as many streams monitored are approximately 2 feet deep. The Ridges provides hip waders, however, most monitors choose to provide their own hip waders. The best part of the activity is enjoying the outdoors, observing animals and aquatic species in and around the stream. The WAV group is an enjoyable collegial group and the activity involves an important contribution to the preservation of clean water in Door County.
Steve: If you enjoy the outdoors this is a great way to learn more about what is happening around you as you hike, bike, kayak. This is another way to contribute to the information needed to help maintain our environment. Don’t be intimidated by the science . All project leaders send you out well prepared for what ever projects you are doing. There are a wide variety of citizen projects available some requiring a couple hours. some an hour a month for six months. Check with staff members at The Ridges about all the possibilities.
To learn more about citizen science programs at the Ridges, go to https://www.ridgessanctuary.org/research/citizen-based-monitoring-program/