Let’s here it for Volunteer Environmental Monitoring!
Volunteers are our eyes and ears into what is happening in the natural world. With dramatic cuts in government-funded monitoring programs, volunteers have stepped up to the plate. Grassroots environmental groups continue the monitoring that would have to be abandoned if it depended on government staffing.
Volunteer monitoring data keeps communities, elected officials and resource management agencies informed about environmental conditionse. This hard-won info influences watershed planning, assessing nonpoint pollution, restoration projects and land use decisions.
Some recent monitoring involved 25-30 volunteers who worked with Emilie Travis to learn just how damaging communication towers actually are to birds. They conducted daily mortality searches at 11 typical towers in Dane County, Wisconsin, during peak migration season in spring and fall. These findings could help shape future tower siting and construction and come up with ways to cut the mortalities at current towers.
How many volunteer monitors are out there?
More than half a million, according to The National Directory of Volunteer Environmental Monitoring Programs. Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count alone involves 50,000 volunteers.
If you want to get your feet wet and your hands dirty and make a real difference in the world, you can find a group that interests you by checking out the National Directory of Volunteer Monitoring Programs. They list organizations by state.
If you are lucky enough to live in Wisconsin (one of the states listed on the map with more than 10,000 volunteers), you can check out the Citizen-Based Monitoring Network of Wisconsin. Their website breaks it down into subject and county, and includes an alphabetical list of every organization by name.
One of the most recent groups to start monitoring is the Wisconsin Salamander Survey, organized by Randy Korb of St. Croix Wildlife.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that salamander populations are declining, like many amphibians. Their numbers have been tracked by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Frog and Toad Survey since 1981, but in 2008, a team of advisers organized a statewide survey of terrestrial salamanders, which is probably the first study of its kind in the country.
Using traps they make themselves, they have been counting for just two years now, so the data is still very preliminary. Like many critters, salamanders are at risk because their habitat is being filled in by human development.
I personally have not seen a salamander in years, but I am going to start looking more carefully for them, and am thinking about joining the salamander citizen survey. Salamanders are one of the first creatures stirring in the spring. They lay their eggs in the ephemeral ponds that form early but dry up by summer. They like to stay away from permanent water bodies that can be filled with fish who find salamander larva to be a much-loved treat. (The larvae look a lot like tadpoles, but with gills.)
Salamanders must migrate twice a year. In spring they move to those ephemeral ponds. They move at night, and they move en mass. They tend to follow the same trail year after year. This is one of the things that make them so vulnerable to human encroachment.
Korb said he was recently asked by a woman at one of his amphibian presentations, why hundreds of salamanders were piling up against the side of her garage. It had been built over winter — directly in the path of a traditional migration route. Sigh.
We need you, Volunteer Environmental Monitors.
We thank you.
More of us should join you.
Here is a smattering of the groups who could use you right now:
Aldo Leopold Audubon Society, Bluebird Restoration Project, Kestrel Project, Winter Bird Count, Birding.
Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin To increase the production of eastern bluebirds and other native cavity nesting birds through a coordinated nest box construction and monitoring program.
Citizen Lake Monitoring Network To create a ripple effect from creating interest in area lakes, to do trend monitoring, to share information and concern and to increase the quality of lakes.
Citizen-based Water Monitoring Network of Wisconsin To help preserve and protect Wisconsin’s over 15,000 lakes and 84,000 miles of rivers, it is important to first understand how they function and then take note of their status. The Citizen-based Water Monitoring Network of Wisconsin offers citizens multiple opportunities to be part of this learning process and to monitor our state’s waters.
Frogwatch USA To get people out in nature and get them to become aware of declining frog populations, as well as to provide scientific proof of the decline in frog populations. Subject Area(s): Amphibians/Reptiles
Data Type(s) Collected: Population Status, Population Trends, Threats to Populations, Distribution and Range, Habitat Conditions and/or Availability
Great Backyard Bird count The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes.
Prairie Enthusiasts For restoration and management purposes. Subject Area(s): Prairies and Oak savanna, Exotics/Invasive Species, Native Vegetation.
Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey To provide the DNR and other agencies with information on general trends for Wisconsin’s frog and toad species, and create an opportunity for citizen involvement and education.
Zebra Mussel Watch To increase public awareness and monitor the distribution of the zebra mussel population.