Thursday, August 8, 2013

Citizen Science programs are busy working (and looking for help)

As I write this, three different volunteer programs are underway in Mount Rainier National Park that work with volunteers to improve our understanding of the park's natural resources and how they are changing over time. One of those, the Cascades Butterfly Survey, is actively looking for additional participants.

Started two years ago by resource managers at North Cascades National Park, the Cascades Butterfly Survey enlists volunteers to cover transects throughout Washington's Cascade Range, including four sites at Mount Rainier. Participants slowly walk their appointed route with a butterfly net, collecting butterflies that cross their path as they flit through wildflowers at peak bloom. Each is carefully identified, recorded, and released. Over time, changing patterns of butterfly range and behavior will give us clues to how our environment is changing under both natural and human influences.

Crews will be working at Rainier next week: Monday August 12 at Naches Peak, Tuesday August 13 near Berkeley Park, Wednesday August 14 on Mazama Ridge, and Thursday August 15 at Spray Park. If you're interested in getting out in the sun, wildflowers, and butterflies, contact volunteer coordinator Michelle Toshack as soon as possible at You can also visit the group's website and read previous articles on this blog.

Meanwhile, the brand new MeadoWatch program is up and running, with volunteers working almost daily to keep track of which flowers are budding, flowering, and setting seed at Paradise and Reflection Lakes. Like the butterfly project, this one will monitor changes in when flowers grow and bloom over time, especially as the climate changes. MeadoWatch is a program run by the University of Washington in partnership with the National Park Service, and a training session last month was well-attended. If you're interested in participating with the program next summer, get on the mailing list by contacting Anna Wilson at

Mount Rainier's first official Citizen Science program was initiated half a dozen years ago to survey frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians in the park's remote lakes and ponds. As with later Citizen Science programs, it was born out of the challenge of collecting large amounts of vital data about the nature of park resources, without enough paid staff to do so. Questions as simple as "how many frogs do you have in the park, and what kinds?" are impossible to answer unless someone actually first looks. This year's surveys are being organized by Student Conservation Association intern Annie Tran, and will be making forays to Mazama Ridge, Bench Lake, Three Lakes, Laughingwater Canyon, Golden Lakes, and Mystic Lake over the next month. Get on the mailing list for next year's program by filling out a volunteer application online.

Whatever they're doing, Citizen Scientists aid our understanding of the magnificent and often endangered resources of our National Parks. We could not protect those resources as effectively without their help, and for this we are deeply grateful!

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