Citizens unite in science 

Squamish Environment Society calling on researchers and nature lovers to compare notes

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOHN FRENCH - People Power The Squamish Environment Society wants citizen scientists to come together and share their research.
  • Photo by John French
  • People Power The Squamish Environment Society wants citizen scientists to come together and share their research.

When Larry Murray refers to the meet-up he has arranged next month he likes to call it C.S.I., knowing it will draw interest and intrigue. The name immediately conjures up images from the TV drama about crime scene investigators.

In Squamish, this version of C.S.I. stands for Citizen Scientist Initiative and it is a project of the Squamish Environment Society.

Murray is inviting backyard scientists to meet at the new downtown business centre called Squamish Start Up on Saturday, May 10 from 9 a.m. to noon. Amateur science sleuths are being called together to celebrate successes, network and learn.

"We recognize in the Sea to Sky corridor there are literally hundreds of people with an interest in the out-of-doors, the natural world and the environment, and they're actually doing some really serious stuff in many, many ways," said Murray from the Roundhouse Lodge on Monday, April 14 before putting his skis back on after a lunch break.

He said the first objective of the meeting is to acknowledge the good work being done by people who don't have formal training but are contributing to our local scientific knowledge. Murray's second objective is to allow the citizen scientists to network with each other and learn from others interested in science.

"We found that most of the people are working solo, and were not talking to each other," Murray said. "We're going to have time for some really good networking at this meeting."

Four speakers have been arranged for the meeting: Meg Toom will talk about the Wildsafe BC program, Edith Tobe plans to talk about the efforts of the Squamish Watershed Society and Marcia Danielson will share information on the breeding bird program and nest counts. Murray said Chris Dale would share how he produces videos from his visits to the Squamish River estuary.

Bear researcher Michael Allen, who has branched out to do a bit of research on cougars and bobcats, said he's aware of the event, but isn't sure if he'll be attending because this is a busy time for him. Bears are coming out of their dens, and he's continuing the bear observation work he started in Whistler back in 1993.

"If I would have quit after five years of following the bears around, think of all the stuff I would have missed," Allen said of his dedication to researching the bear population in Whistler. "To jump into what I want to learn about the population and how it's changed you have to do it for a long time."

He says longevity is important because trends and patterns can be found through long-term research. Allen has seen some interesting changes through his bear research.

"The first 10 years the cub survival was really high, now it's crashing because of the age structure of the male bears in the population is changing," he said. "We have fewer strong dads, we have lots of young renegade males who all just want to mate."

With no big male bears in Whistler, Allen is seeing the young renegade males killing cubs at a high rate.

Allen said it's because of his own experience as a citizen scientist that he supports efforts like C.SI. in Squamish.

"I think those kind of things are great," he said. "There are so many people that are kind of like me that their hobbies are in their back yard, or in the mountains around them. They do it all the time and they're not doing it for the money. They're doing it for the passion and just to learn. They often know a lot of stuff."

Squamish has numerous examples of long-term citizen science initiatives. The Squamish Streamkeepers have been wrapping pilings at the top of Howe Sound since 2007 to promote herring egg survival. Since the effort began there has been a noticeable increase in the Howe Sound herring population.

The Brackendale Winter Eagle Count started 28 years ago and each year on the first Sunday in January a big team of volunteers, mostly regular citizens with an interest in eagles, spends the day counting birds.

A few weeks ahead of the eagle count a team of volunteers between Squamish and Pemberton does a Christmas bird count each year. That count has been around for 24 years.

The Whistler BioBlitz is a little younger at seven years, but it effectively brings together trained scientists and citizens to count species in and around Whistler, adding to the resort's inventory of natural knowledge.

Murray said he doesn't know how many people will show up for the C.S.I. meet-up, but he's looking forward to finding out on May 10.

"We're asking for a $5 donation at the door to cover some of the rental costs and coffee," he said.

There's more information on the event at www.squamishenvironment.ca.

By John French

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