See a Spotted Skunk or Snowy Plover? How Hikers Can Contribute to Wildlife Research
Spot wildlife on a hike this winter? After you file a trip report, take one more step to contribute to conservation science.
by Stephanie Kuhns, Citizen Science Coordinator, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Earlier this summer, a man spotted a female wolverine with her kit. It was an incredibly rare and special sighting, one of only a few times in our agency’s history that a wolverine kit has been seen in the wild here in Washington. He snapped a photo and shared his sighting with us here at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Biologists returned to the area to set out camera traps and hair snares (a non-invasive way to collect DNA samples) to try to get more information on the pair. There are very few wolverines in Washington, and they are among the species considered most vulnerable to climate change. This opportunity to learn about the mother and baby of a species we’re studying closely wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the man who submitted his photo to us.
That’s the power of community science.
Step outdoors and contribute to science
Any time you step outdoors, there’s a chance you’ll see wildlife. If you happen to spend extended time outdoors — be it hiking, camping, kayaking, mountaineering, or some other fun activity — there’s an even better chance you’ll spot wildlife. These sightings can provide valuable information to wildlife researchers and managers.
The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) wants to hear about your encounters with wildlife, no matter how big or small they may be or seem. Your field reports about wildlife, such as what species you saw, the location, and the behavior you observed, can help WDFW better understand the distribution of these species.
When you contribute information, you become a community scientist — someone who is not necessarily a scientist by trade, but still contributes to an ever-growing body of scientific knowledge through community science. And, because there are more people who are not scientists than those who are, community science can make incredible contributions.
Who, what, when, where
For information to be most helpful, try to capture the following information:
- Date and time
- Species and number seen
- Photo (cell phone photos are great because you can turn on your location setting and get a geo-referenced photo)
- Location where you saw the animal (the more accurate the better, think GPS coordinates)
- Brief description of what the animal was doing (grazing, climbing a tree, etc.)
- Brief description of what you were doing at the time you saw the animal
Example: “I was running the Wilderness Peak Loop and came around a curve and saw a black bear sow with three cubs. All four climbed up trees, so I moved off trail and slowly walked past the trees, talking in a calm voice the whole time. I did not see them again. This was around 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 15.”
Once you submit a wildlife viewing report, you might receive a phone call or email from WDFW staff to follow up on your report. (We just want to make sure we get as much information as possible, including any photos you may have taken.) The information you provide will then be put into our database and used to inform management decisions and future research. For example, if certain species are being reported in areas where they’ve never been seen before, this can help us to learn if they’re moving to new areas.
Wildlife to watch for this fall and winter
While WDFW is always interested in hearing about the animals you see while you’re out on the trails, there are some that are of particular interest. These animals are known as Species of Greatest Conservation Need — these animals are uncommon or rare, or are represented by small populations. These are species that are listed as threatened, endangered or sensitive, as well as additional species thought to need conservation attention.
Some species you might see this fall and winter include:
- Western spotted skunk
- Golden eagle
- Short-eared owl
- Snowy plovers
- Freshwater mussels (all species)
Check out the full list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need species.
Interested in learning more?
Community-powered science can be more involved than just sending in photos and reports. Check out the links below to learn more about a few community science projects in which WDFW is involved. Whatever your interests are, there’s probably a project you can join. If there’s not, there’s no better time to start a project on your own. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Citizen Science” to get more information.