Citizen Science ~ Yellowstone Forever Field Seminar Series

“The real wealth of the Nation lies in the resources of the earth soil, water, forests, minerals, and wildlife.  To utilize them for present needs while insuring their preservation for future generations requires a delicately balanced and continuing program, based on the most extensive research.  Their administration is not properly, and cannot be, a matter of politics.”  ~  Rachel Carson

I recently had the opportunity to support one of Yellowstone Forever’s naturalist programs, Citizen Science.  Although I have now supported many field seminars, this program continues to evoke special memories for me. Along with seeing breathtaking sights, as we do with all programs; e.g. wildlife, birds, plants, etc., and studying new and interesting topics, this was an opportunity to take the knowledge and data we collected and give back.  The research we conducted and data we garnered from the field was passed to the National Park Service, with whom we have a collaborative relationship.

What is Citizen Science?

Citizen Science is the name given to projects and activities sponsored by a broad array of organizations, state and local government, community environmental groups, and international organizations.  It is a wonderful way for “non-scientists” to make a difference.  Citizen Science programs allow the average layperson to contribute to scientific studies by supporting professional researchers.

Who can participate?

Volunteers of all ages who are concerned with the environment can participate in Citizen Science programs.

The Citizen Science program I supported through our Yellowstone Forever field seminar was three-pronged.  The first day we hiked to a one-hundred meter transect that had been laid out earlier by our instructor, Joshua.  We collected data on the specific wildflowers we located there, broken down into quadrants.

Students inspecting wildflowers along the transect

Our second day was focused on the invertebrates feeding and pollinating these wildflowers.  This study was led by the park entomologist, Erik.  We set up pit-fall traps at the transect the evening before and the next morning hiked back to the transect, doing net-sweeping to capture insects in the area, checking and emptying our pit-falls to see which insects had visited the previous night, and participating in timed observations to see which insects were actively pollinating the plants.  We returned to the classroom to look at these interesting little invertebrates under the microscope and learned how to mount insect samples, like you might find in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

Our final day found us gleefully standing in the pouring rain and hail to study collared cow bison.  This bison survey was led again by Joshua.  Our research took us to a specific area of the park where telemetry had given him the information we needed to locate the collared cows within a herd.  Our task was to count how many cows, bulls, and yearlings we found, determine if the collared cows had any calves, and collect fresh scat and grasses found in the area where the herd was congregated.

Many of the yearlings were quite inquisitive but never aggressive as we approached.  It bears mentioning that wildlife should not be approached in this manner without a professional guiding the way.  It took some time for us to determine if one little “red dog” belonged to the collared cow, but eventually the adorable little calf wandered over to mom, touching noses, a tender moment that registered success.  We collected our necessary samples and moved along, letting the bison do what they do best, munch their way across the meadow.

We had an incredible three days, learned an immense amount about the landscape we walked, and left with the students feeling euphoric about what had been accomplished.

If you have a passion for nature and would love to give back, here are a few organizations that have established Citizen Science programs, also known in some circles as Citizen Naturalists:

Look for Citizen Science programs in your area.  Happy researching!

Disclaimer:  The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Yellowstone Forever.  

29 thoughts on “Citizen Science ~ Yellowstone Forever Field Seminar Series

  • So glad you were able to let us know what’s happening, with your classes. I, for one, really appreciate what you are doing, as it will benefit the park. Great pictures. Hope you are still enjoying yourself. Thank you!

  • Oh how wonderful this must have been! Especially seeing the bison. And the landscape is gorgeous. I think I would have felt as though I was in heaven. The opening photo of the cabin is a beauty.

  • What a wonderful three days! I love that each day you were gathering data from a different source. Being with the bison would have been my favorite. I am so fascinated with them. Sounds like you are having a lovely adventure this summer filled lots of new knowledge:) Thanks for catching us up!

    • We are having a great summer Pam. Just wish I had more internet service and time to catch up with everyone. So many people who come to the park are focused on the wolves and the bears, and I get that, but I love the bison. In the spring the red dogs are frolicking around and in the next few weeks it will be time for the rut. That will be an exciting time as the bulls strut their stuff!

      • I look at the bison like I do the saguaro…each one is different. There are never too many bison for me (or saguaro). And those little ones are so darn cute. Must have a million photos of bison and I added to my collection this past year when we were in the Black Hills. Yellowstone still remains my all time favorite park. I love the variety from the wildlife, to geysers, hot springs, and hiking. What an amazing place! Too bad so many other people think so too:(

      • I have fallen in love with Yellowstone all over again this summer, but not so much all the tourists who pass through. 😦

  • What an incredible program and experience. The photograph and description of the bison mom and her baby ( I now know is referred to as a “little red dog”) is beautiful. Very impressive all in all!

    Yes, I once had a water buffalo almost charge me as she thought we were getting too close to her little one. An important lesson to remember for sure!!


    • Too often people visiting Yellowstone get far too close to the wildlife. It is difficult to convince many people why we must keep our distance, for their sake as well as ours. I would not want to have faced down a water buffalo Peta.

  • I’m so glad to hear from you — I’ve been wondering what you’ve been up to! I figured you haven’t had good (or any) internet. We don’t have any on Lopez, either, and it’s very challenging. But I’m so happy you managed to post. Yay for Citizen Science! We had the opportunity to participate in a Bird Bioblitz at Great Basin National Park a couple of years ago and it was a memorable experience. So much fun to feel like we were part of something important. I would have loved the wildflower study you did — but sucking up bugs? Oh my!! Did you have to do that? :-)))

    • Our summer has been so fast-paced and internet almost non-existent, so I have to wait for a day off and go down to Gardiner to upload photos and post. What we have been learning this summer and where we are staying makes up for all of it. I have many more classes to talk about, more wildflower classes and birding classes, and right now I am supporting a Native American plants class led by Linda Black Elk – excellent! You would love it Laurel, with your background. As far as the sucking up of bugs, yes I did that! There was a mesh screen which kept us from swallowing any little critters. 🙂

  • What a fantastic way for concerned citizens to participate and assist in environmental issues and causes. Such spectacular scenery. The bison scene left me with jaw hanging pen over my keyboard.

  • What an amazing summer you’re having, seeing things that most of us can only imagine. Our best to you & Terry. Have a great time there

  • Rachel Carson’s words ring true still and with even greater urgency than when she wrote them. I’ve loved sharing your posts on Yellowstone as we spent so much time there each summer and it was fun to see you mention that Gardiner is where you go for internet. I’m thinking it’s not so little anymore! I tried to imagine how chill you must have been and, as fascinating as the experience must have been, I’m thinking that “gleefully standing in the pouring rain and hail” might have been written tongue-in cheek! What an amazing summer you’ve had. Anita

    • Yes, Rachel Carson’s words ring truer today than perhaps when she penned them. Gardiner is still small and funky but internet is our friend in many shops throughout this quirky little town. As for standing in the pouring rain, we really didn’t mind it so much because we had the excitement of having yearling bison being very inquisitive and getting very close.

    • I would Google Citizen Science programs in your area. There are many organizations that are in need of research help and they vary from state to state.

  • Thank you for sharing your time with this class. I admire Joshua so much. He is so knowledgeable and I am glad you got to spend time with him. This is a great way to not only connect with Yellowstone but to give back to this Wonderland .

    • My exact thoughts Julianne. I loved getting to know Joshua and hope to support another class of his before the end of the season.

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