Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Citizen SCIENCE Programs

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Citizen SCIENCE Programs

Article excerpt

As populations increase and become more urbanized, there is a serious need to increase environmental literacy in citizens in order to mitigate environmental damage. Creating citizen science and service learning projects is an engaging tool to mend this concern and promote outdoor activity. These projects, a collaboration of volunteers and scientists to create new science-based knowledge, benefit individual facilities and citizens by increasing habitat stewardship and confidence in a range of opportunities related to outdoor recreation, natural resource conduct and stewardship action.

There are many national citizen science projects that your facility can participate in to get comfortable with data collection and the process before you create your own project. There is a project out there for any interest you have, from the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (www.mlmp.org) to Nature's Notebook (tracks seasonal changes in plants and animals - www.usanpn.org/natures_notebook), Audubon Christmas Bird Count (www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count), and FrogWatch (www.aza.org/frogwatch) to name a few.

Restoring Habitats and Wetlands

The staff of Patuxent River Park, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) in Prince George's County, Maryland, has been successful in involving citizens of all ages in exciting and significant research projects that have impacted the survival of many species. Initially, projects at Patuxent River Park were more pure research - conservation and wildlife management conducted by senior naturalist Greg Kearns - and the public was not usually allowed to participate in any appreciable numbers. Through our river ecology boat tours, the primary mission being environmental education, the community was made aware of ongoing projects. As public interest grew, the programs evolved from using a few intern assistants into a public science and education collaboration.

One major project consists of more than 30 years of osprey (pandion haliaetus) monitoring and banding and includes putting up more than 50 nest platforms over 10 miles of the Patuxent River. Numerous Boy Scouts have received Eagle Scout honors for assisting with the construction and placement of these nests. This long-term, bird-banding project gives numerous interns the opportunity to get "hands on" with the birds, gain tremendous experience working with nature and, at the same time, help allay their fears of nature or birds. Many students have gone on from this experience to work in environmental fields of study, have gained a greater appreciation of birds and learned the importance of studying their populations. The famous naturalist, Roger Tory Peterson once said, "Birds are the litmus paper of the environment," because they are good indicators of environmental change and degradation.

To date, as part of this long-term monitoring project, we have banded more than 1,100 juvenile and adult ospreys at the Patuxent River Park during the past 30 years and another 3,000 on the rest of the river. More than 2,000 people of all ages in the past five years have participated in this program with extremely positive results. Groups of up to 25 people accompany Kearns on a specialized program to learn about the biology of the osprey and how to tag them safely. Participants also learn the procedure involved, what data is collected from the birds and how it comes back to the bander. The training usually starts with the group gathered around a live osprey camera that was installed 15 years ago at the park's visitor center to monitor and learn about osprey behavior. Then, participants go on the pontoon boat and get to handle the birds as part of the banding process. This is always a highlight and, year after year, brings back people who have great interest and enthusiasm. Program demand is high and the funds generated from it are used to sustain other programs and part-time staff.

Another major citizen science program we conduct is the restoration and conservation of wild rice (zizania aquatica) marshes on the Patuxent River. …

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