2018 Awardees of the Citizen Science Competitive Funding Program

The following projects have been selected to receive up to $25,000 from the Citizen Science Competitive Funding Program (CitSci Fund). The fund supports collaborative citizen science efforts where partners, volunteers, and the Forest Service work together in the pursuit of sound science and meaningful community and volunteer engagement. We want to thank all teams for submitting high-caliber proposals; we were impressed by the new and innovative ideas you brought to the agency.

With the funds available, Ecosystem Management Coordination (EMC) was able to fully fund four projects totaling $93,236. In addition, the Forest Service Office of Sustainability and Climate has partnered with EMC to contribute funds to support two more projects, and the Forest Service Eastern Region, Northeastern Area State & Private Forestry, Northern Research Station, and the Forest Products Lab 2018 Youth Engagement Fund has funded one more project bringing the total funding to $152,216. The project partners are contributing an additional $106,896 to accomplish this work.

Update: Additional funding has been provided by programs in the Washington Office to support five more projects: $73,070 from the National Forest System Deputy Chief’s Office for three projects; $9,250 from the Research & Development National Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program for one project; $25,000 from the State & Private Forestry Forest Health Protection Program for one project. A total of $107,320 additional funding.

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2018 Total Submissions: 172


Survey of plants traditionally used by Arizona tribes to improve management across 4FRI

A woman and a man in tee-shirts are outdoors surrounded by trees and shrubs. They are collecting samples of leaves from the bush in front of them.
Tribal members from the San Carlos Apache Tribe work with Forest Service staff to identify culturally important plants. (Credit: USDA-Forest Service)

Location: Kaibab National Forest, Tonto National Forest, Northern Arizona

Partner Project Leads: Sara Souther, Assistant Research Professor, Northern Arizona University

Forest Service Project Leads: Mike Lyndon, Tribal Liaison, Kaibab National Forest and Nanebah Nez, Tribal Liaison, Tonto National Forest

Funding Award: $25,000

Website: Visit the 4FRI website

Description: The Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) is the largest Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project in the country. It influences the management of 2.4 million acres in central Arizona on the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab, and Tonto National Forests. Arizona and New Mexico tribes have requested the Forest Service collect information on traditionally-used plants considered in the 4FRI analysis. The goal is to develop new management protocols that ensure long-term sustainability and availability of these resources.

Locating traditionally-used plants is challenging due to the size of 4FRI lands and the need for experienced botanists to correctly identify plant species. Tribes will offer their expertise to select plants that are either at risk or are culturally, medicinally, or economically important to tribal communities. Volunteers will record observations of these plants using the iNaturalist app on their cell phones. Volunteers will then use that data to identify research priorities, develop research questions, and shape conservation and management goals.

Conservation of traditionally-used plant species promotes forest and grassland ecosystems that are resilient and adaptive in a changing environment. By protecting these species and sharing data with local tribes, this project will ensure that social, economic, and environmental benefits flow from forest and grassland resources. This will strengthen tribal community engagement with public land management and promote the connection of these communities with their natural and cultural heritage.


Tracking the vernal window with a low-cost instrumentation suite

A low-cost ($25) soil frost tube (left) constructed from flexible PVC tubing and filled with a solution of methylene blue and water; the partner project lead, Dr. Elizabeth Burakowski, measuring snow at a local field site in New Hampshire.
(Left) A low-cost ($25) soil frost tube constructed from flexible PVC tubing and filled with a solution of methylene blue and water. (Right) The partner project lead, Dr. Elizabeth Burakowski, measuring snow at a local field site in New Hampshire. (Credit: Cameron Wake)

Location: White Mountain National Forest, Durham, New Hampshire

Partner Project Lead: Elizabeth Burakowski, Research Assistant Professor, University of New Hampshire

Forest Service Project Lead: John Campbell, Research Ecologist, Center for Research on Ecosystem Change, Northern Research Station

Funding Award: $24,646

Description: This project gives northern New England high school students an opportunity to study and enhance collective understanding of the vernal window. The “vernal window” marks the end of winter and the start of the growing season, defined as the time between snowmelt and canopy closure. Classrooms are an ideal venue for this research because it coincides with school semesters and engages students in outdoor scientific inquiry.

Changes in the vernal window could not only affect forest health but economic activities as well. Winter logging and maple sugaring are both dependent on snowmelt and soil thaw, respectively, and these same freeze and thaw cycles can cause road deterioration. A better understanding of the effect of this cycle on the forest ecosystem and infrastructure may help ensure road access to the forest and reduce the costs of maintenance and repair.

Five outdoor classrooms will collect data on snow depth, soil frost, biological activity in the soil, and forest canopy green-up. Teacher and student volunteers will form their own scientific questions, and will analyze and interpret the data collected. Using these experiences, teachers will work with researchers to develop a lesson plan and teacher guide on vernal windows for classrooms to use across the region.


Monitoring the status of the Columbia River Gorge pika population after the Eagle Creek Fire

(Left) A volunteer surveys for pikas in the Columbia River Gorge, prior to the Eagle Creek Fire. (Right) An American pika. (Credit: Cascades Pika Watch; USFS)

Location: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon and Washington

Partner Project Lead: David Shepherdson, Deputy Conservation Manager of the Oregon Zoo

Forest Service Project Lead: Brett Carre, Wildlife and Fisheries Program Manager, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Funding Award: $24,100

Website: Visit the Cascades Pika Watch website

Description: Over the last five years, Cascades Pika Watch, a citizen science initiative based in Portland, Oregon, has trained more than 1,000 volunteers on how to conduct surveys of the American pika throughout the Cascades Mountain Range. Cascades Pika Watch is supported by the Oregon Zoo, the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, as well as several leading pika researchers.

American pikas (Ochotona princeps) are small mammals related to rabbits. Pikas in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area are of particular interest because they live at a much lower elevation than any other pika population in the United States.

The 2017 Eagle Creek Fire affected most of the known low-elevation pika habitat on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, which prompted widespread interest in the fate of pikas in the area. Fires are predicted to increase in both frequency and severity, but the post-fire resilience of pikas and related species to large disturbances is poorly understood. This fire, when paired with the pre-fire data from Cascades Pika Watch, provides a rare opportunity to collect reliable data that will improve understanding of how fire affects pika habitat and potential trends in pika populations.

For this project, citizen scientists will work closely with the Forest Service to conduct pika surveys and collect habitat information. Volunteers will be engaged in this project at multiple levels depending on their degree of interest. Most volunteers will “adopt” a subset of sites they can resurvey each season. The Forest Service’s Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area welcomes the opportunity to partner with the Oregon Zoo, Cascade Pika Watch, the U.S. Geological Survey and others to make this important citizen science program possible.


Collaborative Investigations at Admiralty Cove

USFS Heritage Program staff working alongside DIA staff and Elders in the field during 2016
Forest Service Heritage Program staff working alongside Douglas Indian Association (DIA) staff and Elders in the field. From left to right: Lydia Mills (USFS), Bernadine DeAsis (DIA), Rachel Myron (USFS), John Morris (DIA Elder), and Kamal Lindoff (DIA). (Credit: Douglas Indian Association)

Location: Tongass National Forest, Admiralty National Monument, Alaska

Partner Project Lead: Kamal Lindoff, Environmental Planner, Douglas Indian Association

Forest Service Project Lead: Rachel Myron, Archaeologist, Tongass National Forest

Funding Award: $19,490.24

Description:The Tongass National Forest and Douglas Indian Association (DIA), a federally recognized Tribal Government, will work together to document the cultural history of Admiralty Cove on the east side of Admiralty Island National Monument in Southeast Alaska. We will fulfill a Heritage Program management goal to complete a comprehensive inventory in an area likely to include archaeological properties with the help of DIA staff and Tribal youth as volunteers.

At the site to be surveyed was a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) cabin which was a National Register-eligible property that was removed because of safety concerns. A CCC trail remains near the site. As part of an agreement with the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office, this project will complete a comprehensive site survey to find any archaeological sites in the area.

Student volunteers will be paired with elders to collect ethnohistoric information. A field day will enable the same elder/student pairs to spend time in the Cove in the vicinity of the FS trail and recreation cabin.  Students will refine their questions and record additional on-site observations as appropriate. They will assist professional archaeologists and Tribal specialists in conducting an archaeological survey, involving the use of metal detectors, pedestrian transects, and sub-surface probing.  Archaeological data will be shared with the Tribal Council as well as with the Alaska State Office of History and Archeology. Participants will complete the project by designing an interpretive sign that, while protecting sensitive information, will share the results of the research with the public.


The following projects are jointly funded by the Forest Service Office of Sustainability & Climate and Ecosystem Management Coordination.


Neighbors to Nature: Cache Creek Study

A local youth crew on Bridger-Teton National Forest
A youth crew in Jackson, Wyoming will become citizen scientists on the Bridger-Teton National Forest. (Credit: USDA-Forest Service)

Location: Bridger-Teton National Forest, Jackson, Wyoming

Partner Project Lead: Kate Gersh, Associate Director, Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation

Forest Service Project Lead: Timothy Farris, Trail Supervisor, Bridger-Teton National Forest

Funding Award: $25,000

Website: Visit the Nature Mapping Jackson Hole website

Description: The Neighbors to Nature project will expand an existing partnership between the Forest Service, Friends of Pathways, Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, and Wildflower Watch. . This partnership will use citizen science to better inform land management decisions in the heavily used Cache Creek drainage, near Jackson, Wyoming.

The project will recruit a youth crew from Friends of Pathways, volunteers from the Jackson Hole Wildlife Nature Mapping program, and current volunteers from Wildflower Watch. These citizen scientists will collect, analyze and interpret plant, wildlife, and trail use data. The information the group collects will help establish a baseline of observations, and effective and consistent method to gather and process this data over time.

This project will add value to local resource management by providing an accurate, scientific view of the plant and wildlife populations in the area and the associated recreational use patterns. Approximately 10 species of native and invasive plants will be located and monitored by volunteers, and trail counters will be purchased and installed in key locations to observe how the area is being used for recreation. Some volunteers will report on wildlife movements in the area.

This data can be used to evaluate how recreation use may be influencing wildlife behavior and inform management actions such as seasonal restrictions. Data will help monitor the effects of climate change on plant communities and track invasive species. Volunteers will analyze the data and share it with the public and the Forest Service to inform future management decisions in the area.


Engaging citizen scientists in field research on American pika, an indicator species for alpine ecosystem integrity

Citizen science pika study
Front Range Pika Project volunteers learn to do field research on American pika. (Credit: John Linsley)

Location: White River National Forest, Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Partner Project Lead: Megan Mueller, Senior Conservation Biologist, Rocky Mountain Wild

Forest Service Project Lead: Jennifer Austin, District Wildlife Biologist, White River National Forest

Funding Award: $15,980

Website: Visit the Front Range Pika Partners website

Description: The Forest Service, along with, Rocky Mountain Wild, the Denver Zoo, and the local community, will be working together to determine the status of the American pika (Ochotona princeps) on the White River National Forest.

The American pika is a small, charismatic mammal native to western North America. A smaller relative of rabbits, pikas are sensitive to climate-driven temperature variation, snowpack, and vegetation composition. It is a focal species in the White River National Forest land management plan, and studying these focal species gives land managers a deeper understanding of the health of a species’ habitat. In this case, the pika is an indicator of the health and integrity of their alpine ecosystem habitat. Recent research predicts that pikas may be extirpated from nearby Rocky Mountain National Park during this century under some climate change scenarios.

Volunteers will conduct surveys on pika occupancy and habitat characteristics between July and September in 2018 and 2019. Scat samples will also be gathered for studies on genetics and stress hormones among pika populations. A volunteer advisory group that is open to all volunteers will participate further based on their interests, such as with data analysis and assisting with trainings. This project will establish relationships with volunteers allowing for long-term monitoring of pika habitat that will help inform future Forest Service management to make habitats more resilient.


The following project is sponsored by Forest Service Eastern Region, Northeastern Area State & Private Forestry, Northern Research Station, and the Forest Products Lab with 2018 Youth Engagement Funding. The funding is specifically designed to get youth outside and support new or existing Forest Service Education efforts or work through agreements with partners.


PHCWPMA Non-Native Invasive Species Citizen Science Program

An invasive garlic mustard plant on the forest floor
An example of the invasiveness of the garlic mustard plant in the Monongahela National Forest. (Credit: Steven Katovich, U.S. Forest Service)

Location: Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Partner Project Lead: Phyllis Baxter, Appalachian Forest Heritage Area Program Director

Forest Service Project Lead: Julie Fosbender, Natural Resource Specialist, Monongahela National Forest

Funding Award: $18,000

Website: http://www.phcwpma.org

Description: For the last seven years, the Potomac Highlands Cooperative Weed and Pest Management Area (PHCWPMA) has delivered a successful citizen science program for fifth graders at an elementary school in Grant County, West Virginia. After a four-week series of lessons about local non-native invasive species (NNIS) in the classroom, the students apply what they've learned on a day-long field trip to identify, map and remove NNIS on the Monongahela National Forest.

With the support of the CitSci Fund, the PHCWPMA plans to purchase additional educational materials, expand the program to other schools in and around the Monongahela National Forest, and use the latest technology for gathering and sharing NNIS data.

Working with teachers, these activities have been correlated with the Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives for the State of West Virginia. The students will use tablets to collect and store information using the EDDMapS application. This data is accessible by the public, scientists, and other NNIS specialists, and supplies spatial data previously not available to the Forest Service for the reporting of NNIS treatment and removal. With these funds, the PHCWPMA will continue working with students in Grant County and expand to students in Pocahontas, Fayette, Greenbrier, and Hardy counties by 2019, serving primarily rural and low-income students.


The following project was funded by the National State & Private Forestry Forest Health Protection Program.


Científicos en Familia: A Program to Engage Diverse Communities in Citizen Science and Stewardship

Citizen scientists collect dataLocation: Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Virginia

Partner Project Lead: Felipe Benítez, Executive Director, Corazón Latino

Forest Service Project Lead: Tamberly Conway, Partnerships, Diversity & Inclusion Specialist, Washington Office

Funding Award: $25,000

Description: Corazón Latino and NorthBay have created a pilot program to engage, train, and empower diverse families (primarily Latino) from the DC/VA/MD region to become citizen scientists, applying their acquired knowledge to support Forest Service mission, information needs, and restoration. Focus on forest health and human health connections and the relationship between healthy forests and clean water will provide avenues for participating families to become Citizen Science Corps members who can activate to collect meaningful data to meet FS information needs.

The bilingual strategic communications and stakeholder engagement will empower regional and national audiences through digital tools, social media, traditional media (TV, print, radio) and community outreach (events, workshops, presentations). We will generate a citizen science community engagement model for diverse communities that can be adapted, replicated and scaled throughout the nation. 


The following projects were funded by the National Forest System Deputy Chief’s Office.


Engaging Angler Scientists to Help Prioritize and Monitor the Effectiveness of Stream Reconnection Projects

Citizen scientists workingLocation: Pisgah-Nantahala, George Washington-Jefferson, Allegheny and Huron-Manistee National Forests

Partner Project Lead: Jake Lemon, Eastern Angler Science Coordinator, Trout Unlimited

Forest Service Project Lead: Nathaniel Gillespie, Assistant Fisheries Program Manager, Washington Office

Funding Award: $24,923

Website: https://www.citizenscience.gov/2018/04/13/citizen-scientist-spotlight-nick-milkovich/#

Description: This project formalizes a collaboration between Trout Unlimited (TU) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to empower citizen scientists, including TU anglers, college students and other interested members of the community to (1) conduct road-stream crossing surveys to understand Aquatic Organism Passage (AOP) and (2) conduct brook trout spawning surveys to provide baseline biological data associated with barriers, and to monitor the effectiveness of AOP projects and other stream treatments.

USFS and TU staff have invested significant resources to assess road-stream crossings for AOP issues. While some national forests have been comprehensively surveyed, many still have significant gaps in their understanding of aquatic connectivity. Empowering citizen scientists to assist with these surveys will expand USFS capacity to understand AOP across entire forests and to better prioritize stream reconnection projects that benefit brook trout and other aquatic organisms.

This project leverages TU’s strong grassroots base and regional project staff to develop pilot projects in eastern National Forest lands. By developing resources and demonstrating the effectiveness of this approach, this project will facilitate and promote expansion of AOP assessment and monitoring to other national forests throughout the eastern US.


Citizen Science for Rangeland Health: Engaging Ranchers in Science

RanchersLocation: San Juan National Forest, Dolores, CO

Partner Project Lead: Retta Bruegger, Regional Specialist, Range Management, Colorado State University Extension, Western Colorado

Forest Service Project Lead: Corey Ertl, Range Management Specialist, San Juan National Forest

Funding Award: $23,147

Description: This project will monitor resource issues of mutual concern to grazing permittees and the USFS on grazing allotments in the San Juan National Forest. Rangeland managers need data to manage resources sustainably and we believe that engaging ranchers in citizen science will generate information on important management issues in the area, empower ranchers to be stewards of the resources they manage on the Forest, and take a more active role in observing land trends.

This project provides the opportunity for the USFS and ranchers to work together, improving working relationships and mutual understanding. Data generated by our citizen science project will provide useful information, help us correlate more quantitative monitoring methods with faster methods that ranchers can use, and develop a cohort of individuals who are making formal observations, interpreting data and applying it in management decisions.


Boise Multi-Party Monitoring

Location: Boise National Forest, Boise, ID

Partner Project Lead: Art Beal, West Central Highlands RC&D & Boise Forest Coalition

Forest Service Project Lead: John Riling, Forest Silviculturist and Richard Newton, Emmett District Ranger, Boise National Forest

Funding Award: $25,000

Website: http://idahoforestpartners.org/main.html

Description: The Boise Forest Coalition (BFC) has been collaborating with the Boise National Forest on project development since 2010.  Projects are in various stages, from National Forest Management Act data collection, to sale preparation, and implementation with ongoing logging operations. The partnership identified the issue that monitoring is often not completed following project implementation due to funding constraints and a lack of resources. 

To address this, the BFC has provided recommendations for multi-party monitoring to complete implementation and effectiveness monitoring to help inform future decisions, the need and effectiveness of project design features, and to improve treatment prescriptions and best management practices. Our volunteers have worked, and will work, with the Forest Service to design monitoring protocols that address relevant scientific questions and conduct field data-collection  and data input. This project will address relevant social issues (like the value of vegetation treatment) and allow volunteers to acquire hands-on experience relating to scientific methodology for field data collection.


The following project was funded by the Research & Development National Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program.


Culturally Responsive Citizen Science Development with FIA in Interior Alaska

Location: Pacific Northwest Research Station - Anchorage Forestry Sciences Lab, Anchorage, AK

Partner Project Lead: Katie Spellman, Research Associate, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Forest Service Project Lead: Kate Legner, Supervisory Biological Scientist and Linda Kruger, Research Social Scientist, Pacific Northwest Research Station - Anchorage Forestry Sciences Lab

Funding Award: $9,250

Description: The Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program is a nationwide inventory of forested lands which recently began collecting data in Interior Alaska in 2016.  FIA crews are based in rural and/or Alaska Native communities for months at a time but the short and intensive period employees live in communities limits time to build critical relationships and data collected may be disconnected from community needs and priorities.  A culturally-responsive citizen science approach coupled with typical data collection methods will build partnerships and increase youth opportunities. We propose to initiate co-creation of local forest health citizen science projects integrating local knowledge with FIA data. FIA will partner with the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) citizen science program through University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) to facilitate projects and maintain long-term relationships. Community teams from a FIA base (Tok in 2018) will be trained in the co-creation process and GLOBE citizen science protocols. Teams will use this process to identify a forest health concern and develop a data collection project. Community-collected data will be reported to the community, shared with FIA, and added to the GLOBE database (with global reach).  Evaluation of the process will help improve citizen science project development in other Interior communities and improve FIA data distribution and community relations.