Citizen scientists lauded in Pomfret
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Pomfret - posted Mon., Dec. 3, 2012
Citizen science volunteers from seven programs were lauded on Nov. 28 at the Connecticut Audubon Society Center at Pomfret. According to Citizen Science Coordinator Paula Coughlin, 183 volunteers accrued 944 volunteer hours in 2012 alone. Since the program's inception in 2003, 1,185 volunteers have engaged in projects on stream quality, vernal pool inventories, stream bioassessment, habitat surveys and bird banding. Those projects have yielded 8,701 volunteer hours. The projects are significant, according to Coughlin, who said the volunteers represent the eyes and ears of conservation and wildlife professionals who haven't the resources to get out into the field.
Audubon conservation biologist Anthony Zemba agreed. The help volunteers provide to the scientific community is essential, he told them. “There isn't enough money, time or professionals to go around,” he said. “We rely heavily on volunteers.”
The programs yield information useful to scientists, but helpful to town officials as well. Some of the data from vernal pool inventories and stream quality walks have been shared with wetlands and conservation commission members from local towns. The water quality program currently being undertaken is one example, according to Coughlin. “We're looking at the tributaries to the French River,” she said. “It's significant because the river is listed as impaired by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.”
Some of the data collected on vernal pools has been put onto maps for town officials, Coughlin said. “Most people don't realize what vernal pools are,” she said. “They are important breeding areas for spotted salamanders and wood frogs and other creatures. We give that information to wetlands commissioners so they have another tool to evaluate parcels of land.”
Zemba said the significance of the citizen science data could be far-reaching. Scientists still don't understand all the reasons for some species' declines, he said. The reasons might include habitat destruction and exploitation, disease or fragmentation of the ecosystems necessary to sustain certain populations. “We can point to some reasons to explain the declines, but we're not sure of others. It may be a cumulative effect,” Zemba said.
That lack of understanding inhibits proper conservation management. The obstacles to proper conservation management include lack of information, a lack of the recognition of issues, and the lack of an understanding of why we need to preserve certain species. “Fifty to 60 percent of all organisms on earth are of conservation concern,” he said. “We're seeing a large number of plants becoming extinct and that's a concern because plants form the basis of the food pyramid.”
“We need to wake people up,” said volunteer Bev Thornton. “It's our environment. Grab a child and take them out and teach them something. They don't learn in a book what they can see in the sky. There are a lot of beautiful things to see.”
Gail Cameron drove all the way from Hamden for the program. Her interest developed after taking a master wildlife conservation course with the Connecticut DEEP in 2002. “It gives you a good overview of things,” she said. “I heard about the mammal monitoring program and I was interested in tracking and mammals. I came here and never left,” she said. “What they've done with this center is just phenomenal.”