SHERIDAN — U.S. Forest Service officials in the Bighorn National Forest will once again offer a series of citizen science projects, wilderness monitoring projects and volunteer days.
Whether it’s going out to monitor various species or spending a day pulling weeds, individuals can help benefit the environment for future generations.
Citizen science projects through the Partner Opportunities Guide include a wide variety of selections for citizens. Due to the large amount of land that USFS officials deal with, it is very difficult to ensure that every part is well supervised and healthy, according to USFS officials. In this case, citizen science projects are a method for the community to participate in the monitoring process. With each of the programs, volunteers will submit data to an application, whether it be birds or various tree species. Most of the projects themselves are relatively new, starting last summer.
The data extracted from the various projects is integrated into a larger database.
“Scientists can take this information and help bolster the information we already have,” said Sara Evans Kirol, public affairs manager for the Bighorn National Forest.
Monarch Mapper is a project where volunteers can help USFS officials identify milkweed locations. Milkweed is the sole host plant for monarch butterflies, making it necessary to identify the plant’s location throughout the forest for the service to monitor both species.
Other projects include INaturalist and Ebird. INaturalist is a general database for recording all species, be it plants, animals, insects or trees. USFS officials are working with the Bighorn Audubon Society specifically to set up and monitor the INaturalist app.
“Suppose some people go hiking one day and they see some really cool flowers or birds. They can go into INaturalist and document everything that happens along the way,” said Evans Kirol.
Ebird aims to specifically document bird species. This information can help show the habitats and movements of local bird species during specific seasons.
Aspen Stand Monitoring is another citizen science project in the community. In this specific area, volunteers document aspen locations. This is important in the sense that aspen is a unique ecosystem that increases biodiversity according to Kirol. Aspen is generally located in riparian areas, creating a greater diversity of birds and bats.
Aspens also help with fire management, as the species is known to stop or slow fires. Using this technique during dry seasons can really allow the Forest Service to control the various fires,” said Evans Kirol.
“If there are people out there who don’t want to go out and deal with barbed wire and hike very far, Aspen Stand Monitoring is a good option,” Evans Kirol said.
Other projects include repairing fences, monitoring wilderness and removing invasive weeds.
The fence project involves the removal or repair of unsafe fences in the Bighorn Mountains. Before repairing the fences, however, an inventory must be made, which also requires volunteers. The project has already been announced, but it has not generated any volunteer interest. USFS project managers hosted a kick-off meeting April 22 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Johnson County Fire Hall. During the meeting, fence removal dates and methods for tracking or inventorying problematic fences were discussed.
“The fence project is one of the most challenging projects, but it’s also very rewarding because we’re able to watch and see what’s been accomplished,” said Evans Kirol. “Removing fences that are unsafe makes a difference to people, wildlife and pets who can potentially be harmed by the fences themselves.”
The wilderness project includes monitoring human use in the Bighorn National Forest through campsite assessments. Often when an individual camps in a certain area of the forest, they leave behind some type of human waste. Over time, this waste accumulates to create a noticeable impact on the area. The Wyoming Wilderness Association is partnering with the USFS to continue the project. People wishing to monitor campsites in the Cloud Peak Wilderness can contact WWA Executive Director Khale Century Reno at 307-672-2751.
As a quick way to volunteer, the Forest Service offers an Invasive Weed Project, requiring volunteers to pull out invasive weeds. Prizes are awarded for different categories, such as the number of weeds eradicated.
Citizen science projects are long-term, year-round projects versus one-day events. One-day events listed in the Opportunity Guide include Kids Fishing Day, National Trails Day, National Public Lands Day and Tongue River Cleanup Day.
The Kids’ Fishing Day will be June 25 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Porcupine Ranger Station Pond, located on Forest Road 13, north of Highway 14A. The event is free and open to the public.
National Public Lands Day is September 24, encouraging participants to enjoy lands that are open to everyone. Likewise, National Trails Day honors all of the officials and volunteers who supported recreational trails on June 4th.
USFS Trails Coordinator Justin Reimer has been with the Forest Service for 15 years now, working to maintain the 1,400 miles of motorized and non-motorized trails through the Bighorn Mountains. He works with a team to compile an annual list of trails to maintain, keeping a rotating list of all the trails in the forest. For larger projects, they will partner with various organizations, such as Wyoming State Trails.
“We pick up volunteers wherever we can,” Reimer said. “We will work with groups like the Black Mountain Nordic Club to maintain some Nordic trails. We will do a few days of work on this every year. Last year, for example, we had the Bighorn Climbers Coalition in Tensleep Canyon doing some work.
Tongue River Cleanup Day has no set date. The main focus of the day will be clearing rubbish and repainting signs along the North Tongue River.
“We are always looking for partners and volunteers who want to make a difference,” said Evans Kirol. “If there are things that people see there that we may be overlooking, please let us know. We want this to continue in the future. »
Marly Graham is an intern at The Sheridan Press.