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Citizen Scientists: Making a World of Difference

Discover how you can observe and monitor the environment in your own backyard!

Almost anyone can be a scientist and help protect our planet – even in their own backyards. Whether someone’s passion is watching hawks, catching butterflies, chasing bugs, or even taking photographs, a workshop Saturday, April 9, in Brattleboro will offer individuals a chance to become a citizen scientist and make a difference in protecting the environment.

The US Environmental Protection Agency and more than a dozen community organizations –governmental and non-profit – will hold a 3-hour workshop showcasing opportunities to get involved with nature and the environment beginning at 9:30 am at the River Garden, 157 Main Street, Brattleboro.

“Everyone from hikers and bikers to entomologists and ornithologists, will learn how to be citizen scientists,” said Patti Smith, an organizer of the event. “The options run the gamut, from helping salamanders cross the street and checking water temperature to photographing insects, birds or plants and entering the information into your smartphone.”

Participants will be able to go table to table learning about what activities are available to them, and to meet like-minded citizens who are also looking to get involved.

In addition to learning about what they can do in the field, workshop participants will be able to take part in hands-on activities that morning. A water table will simulate what happens when a river is flooded, and what people can do – then and there – to make a difference. And they will be invited to build a seed bomb to help stabilize stream banks.

The point is to let community members know that the smallest contributions make a big difference, explained Jeri Weiss, lead organizer in EPA’s New England office.

“We want participants to leave knowing how much impact they can make and how they can get involved, whether for a single hour once, or a few hours a week,” Weiss said.

Vermont Atlas of Life, for instance, will be looking for individuals who want to contribute to a Crowdsource Project that asks questions about the surrounding community like: What lives here? Where is it? What's common? What's at risk? What will be? As human activity changes the local landscape and the answers to these questions, the organization is looking to find out about plant and animal distributions across vast landscapes and over long periods of time.

“Vermonters cannot respond effectively to climate change, natural disasters, invasive species, and other environmental and economic threats without an understanding of the state's living resources,” said Kent McFarland director of the Vermont Atlas of Life at Vermont Center for Ecostudies. “At stake is nothing less than the health of our natural world, economy, and human health itself.”

McFarland noted that from birds to butterflies and everything in between, individual biodiversity sightings can make a difference. A growing community of citizen naturalists from around the state are sharing observations and helping increase knowledge, he noted. Observations made by people in their backyards or down the street are turned into research-grade, citizen science data that will help professional scientists discover, track and ultimately conserve the natural heritage, he said.

Another organization involved, Digital Earth Watch Picture Post Network, has installed “Picture Posts” at forests, parks, and schools around Vermont. Anyone can go to these spots and take photos. Instructions for taking the photos in nine directions are included at each post.

The pictures are dated, geotagged, uploaded and shared on the website so that they can be compared to the exact same views on different days in different years. The photos and location are then analyzed in many ways and monitored. Bonneyvale Environmental Education Center is hosting the first picture post in the Brattleboro area on Earth Day 2016. Those who want to participate in this can find out more at: http://picturepost.unh.edu/ or email picturepostsupport@picturepost.unh.edu.

CoCoRaHS, a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers of all ages and backgrounds, will also be there to introduce its work inviting citizens to measure and map rain, hail and snow in their communities. The organization uses low-cost measurement tools, stresses training uses an interactive Web-site to provide high-quality data.

Each of these organizations and many more will be on hand at the workshop to introduce citizens to ways they can play a part in protecting the environment.

Organizations participating: Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center; Picture Post; , Boston Museum of Science; Vermont Center for Ecostudies; Hemlock Wooly Adelgid; Brattleboro Conservation Commission; Connecticut River Watershed Council; Windham County Natural Resources Conservation District; Southeast Vermont Watershed Association; DEC Vermont Atlas; Brattleboro Trees Advisory Committee; Brattleboro Area Trail System; Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow; EPA Low Impact Development team.

This workshop was organized by a committee of staff from Vermont Watershed Management Division; Town of Brattleboro; the Southeast Vermont Watershed Alliance; the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center; and Windham County Natural Resources Conservation District, as well as EPA New England.

Sue Fillion
Town of Brattleboro
230 Main Street, Suite 202
Brattleboro, VT 05301
Phone: 802.251.8112
Fax: 802.254.6456


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Staple of good science

A calm hands-on, practical, participatory commonsense approach is a longtime staple of good science.


Looks great!

Crowdsourcing works.

I like the picture post idea - of having lots of people photograph the same spots over time to watch how they change. (It's a form of animation!)


Seed Balls

"In addition to learning about what they can do in the field, workshop participants will ...be invited to build a seed bomb to help stabilize stream banks."

Wikipedia ~ "Seed bombing or aerial reforestation[1] is a technique of introducing vegetation to land by throwing or dropping compressed bundles of soil containing live vegetation (seed balls). Often, seed bombing projects are done with arid or off-limits (for example, privately owned) land."


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