Education

To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society. -Theodore Roosevelt

B&C Fellow - Jami Belt

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Jami Belt
University of Montana


USING CITIZEN SCIENCE VOLUNTEERS TO MONITOR MOUNTAIN GOATS AND PIKAS IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

Glacier National Park resource managers need baseline information about the status of mountain goats and pikas to detect population changes that may occur. The High Country Citizen Science project engages trained volunteers to collect data on mountain goats and pikas, species whose habitat may be adversely impacted by climate change. Pikas have already been extirpated in portions of the Great Basin due to climate change impacts, and their numbers have declined in other portions of their range. Little is known about how mountain goats will adapt to warmer average temperatures and other habitat level changes. Concerns about the stability of Glacier's mountain goat population have arisen due to a decline in recent years in the number of mountain goats using a large mineral lick. 

Glacier's citizen science program has been established to help resource managers address the need for baseline information and monitoring. The use of "citizen scientist" volunteers to collect research data is growing in National Parks and other land management agencies. Citizen science projects generally are low in cost, engage large numbers of people to gather large datasets, use non-invasive monitoring methods, educate participants about resource issues and foster stewardship amongst participants. However, concerns about the scientific validity of data gathered by volunteers with varying levels of experience have led to limited use of the data by resource managers.

The goal of our research is to analyze the efficacy of using observational data gathered by volunteers for long-term monitoring of mountain goats and pikas in Glacier National Park. We will compare volunteers' data on abundance and distribution of mountain goats during 2008 and 2009 to data collected by biological science technicians during the same time period, using both paired and independent observations. We will also determine detectability of pikas by volunteers at sites with known pika inhabitation.

To date, 86 High Country Citizen Science volunteers have been recruited and trained to complete systematic 1- hour long mountain goat and/or pika surveys at 36 mountain goat and 20 pika survey sites. They have completed 186 mountain goat surveys with a goal of conducting at least 3 surveys at each site. We are developing a GIS-based viewshed analysis of each site to determine the portion of potential mountain goat habitat visible at all survey sites. Volunteers have also conducted 46 surveys at 19 of the 20 established pika sites and have located and surveyed 15 additional pika sites. We will contrast pika data collected by volunteers with data collected from more rigid and systematic surveys.

 

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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt