Environmental scientists monitor rivers, wetlands, wildlife species, invasive species and other natural features of a place to keep tabs on the health of those natural features. But the environmental scientists can’t be everywhere. Several years ago, the natural resource agencies discovered that there is a whole group of interested people that could be put into service to provide that needed monitoring. Citizen scientists are ordinary people who have a strong interest in local nature and who receive training in documenting natural conditions and report their findings to an information network run by a professional staff. Bird counts, frog and toad counts, river watches, invasive species watches are all examples of this citizen science.
Beyond the data generated, these citizen science programs also help build ownership in natural features. Someone who has been out monitoring water quality on a river doesn’t want to see their river contaminated. I have not looked into any research about how many stream monitors who started out just as natural history buffs become politically active to protect their stream, but I do know of some anecdotes about that.
But even if you have no intention of becoming an activist, if you have any interest in helping quantify your place, look around for opportunities to participate in a citizen science project. You’ll learn a lot, you’ll have a good time, and you’ll help contribute to the knowledge base needed to manage your natural resources.