Young citizen scientists make their mark

March 4, 2019

In the summer of 2018 Clark Fork Coalition (CFC) partnered with the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) and National Wildlife Federation (NWF) on a pilot program to train middle school kids to be citizen scientists in the Lolo National Forest.

“A citizen science project is any activity where volunteers (a person who donates time and talent to advance the mission of the Forest Service for no compensation) are involved in the scientific process in various ways, including formulating research questions, creating and refining project design, conducting scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, developing technologies and applications, making discoveries, and solving problems. With good training and quality assurance processes in place, anyone can be a citizen scientist and contribute meaningful data and information to the agency.” – U.S. Forest Service

Every summer the Western Wildlands MCC youth crew program recruits local middle schoolers to spend a week in the field participating in a service project that has real world applications. As with any citizen science project, the challenge often lies in project development. Finding a project with the unique combination of being suitable for beginner skill levels and being challenging enough for a learning experience, while collecting meaningful and usable data is a tough balance to strike.

The Clark Fork Coalition had the perfect project for this group of young citizen scientists-to-be. CFC was looking to gather important data about beavers in the Lolo Creek Watershed. CFC and other agencies were eager to know the quality of beaver habitat in this area but lacked the staff and funding required to collect the data.

This is where the MCC crews come in. These middle schoolers were on the ground in Lolo National Forest throughout the summer searching for beaver evidence and measuring beaver habitat suitability in the watershed. Without this group of citizen scientists, this data could not have been collected. It was an amazing collaboration.

Below is a link to the GIS story map created by MCC field crew leader and CFC education assistant, Heather Leach, that tells the story of that collaboration – the partners, the kids, the hard work, and the excellent data collected.

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