Citizen science can be defined simply as volunteers participating in projects to answer scientific questions or to learn about – and thus protect – a place close to home. A well-known example of citizen science is the Audubon Society’s Christmas bird count, which began in 1900.

But citizen science can be more casual and adaptable, too. For example, what if you’re in the Gila National Forest and you happen to observe something that the Forest Service needs to know about? Maybe it’s a severely rutted or eroding road that is sending sediment into a nearby stream. Perhaps you witness off-road vehicles driving cross-country or in a stream. Or, much more happily, you sight a beaver pond or a rare bird. Because the Forest Service is currently understaffed, employees aren’t in the forest as much as they need to be, and they could use some helping hands.

In collaboration with the Forest Service, UGWA established a program for volunteers to record their observations in the Gila National Forest. This is a perfect opportunity for hikers to make a difference while out in the forest to enjoy exercise, solitude, and beauty.

Our short questionnaire acts as a checklist of observable forest impacts. A series of simple questions allows the casual hiker or driver to record their observations. They will also log their location and take a few photos. There are three options for collecting data.

The first two options are digital. Using our simple instructions, volunteers can download free Gila National Forest maps and UGWA’s data form onto their personal smartphones. Or they can borrow UGWA’s tablet that is ready to go. If recorded on the volunteer’s smartphone or on UGWA’s tablet, the information and photos can be uploaded easily into our online Field Maps account.

The third option works best for those who prefer the tried-and-true method of map, pencil, and paper. Volunteers using UGWA’s paper questionnaire can return the completed forms to us and we’ll take it from there.  

For any of these options – tablet, smartphone, or paper – UGWA will record volunteers’ data and upload it to the Forest Service, and follow through with them. Volunteers get to do what they love – visit the Gila National Forest – while knowing that their observations, data, and photos are being put to good use.

Thank you to the Maki Foundation and our anonymous Major Donor for funding our Citizen Science program.