Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Letter to Citizen Scientists

I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Environment and Resources program of the Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies. I am also affiliated with the National Institute of Invasive Species Science (NIISS; www.niiss.org), an organization formed to develop cooperative approaches for invasive species science that meet the needs of land managers and the public. As part of my research, I'm working alongside staff from NIISS to develop a national citizen science program that focuses on the collection and integration of data on invasive species among local citizen science and environmental education programs. A website, www.citsci.org, has been created to facilitate with this effort. NIISS is partnering with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the Rivers Alliance of Wisconsin to provide trainings that include an introduction to invasive species, invasive species monitoring protocols, global positioning systems (GPS), and use of the website for your data management needs. These trainings are free and NIISS staff will travel to your location to conduct these trainings.

As part of this program, we plan to conduct an experiment to test the ability of these trainings to provide citizen scientists with the knowledge and skills they need to monitor invasive species and to conduct scientific research independently. Therefore, we have planned a two-day event at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum on May 30-31, to conduct this experiment. Rain dates have been scheduled for June 13-14. This event will be one of many to celebrate the Arboretum's 75th anniversary that looks at how a place like the Arboretum can integrate research, education, and restoration. The first day, May 30 (June 13), will include a full day of training. The training will include:
- An introduction to the scientific method and how the knowledge and skills learned in the training apply to that method.
- An introduction to invasive species including what they are, why they are a problem, and what personal actions can be taken to prevent their spread.
-An introduction to global positioning systems including what they are, how they work, and their applications.
-How to use global positioning systems to take a waypoint and to navigate.
-An introduction to sampling design and monitoring protocols.
-An introduction to the program's website (www.citsci.org) including joining a project, uploading data, and viewing uploaded data.

On the second day, May 31 (June14), citizen scientists will have the opportunity to test their skills alongside those of experts by performing tasks at a series of monitoring stations. The results of these studies will remain anonymous, but we will provide the participants and programs with final group results to see how the citizen science groups performed. Additional activities are being planned to make this an exciting and worthwhile weekend for all participants.

To ensure that this program is a success, I am writing to request your participation in volunteer recruitment. We are seeking 160 volunteers to participate in this event, so widespread advertisement is essential. Specifically, to be confident that the individuals participating in the experimental design are as representative of the citizen science population in Wisconsin as possible, we need to collect demographic information. In addition, we need to determine which volunteers might be interested in participating in the monitoring event described above. For this, we would like to have all volunteers fill out a very brief questionnaire. Your response to the questionnaire will inform us of your level of interest.

Volunteers can access the survey online at www.citsci.org. Click on “Wisconsin Citizen Science Questionnaire” at the bottom of the page. Please note that the questionnaire is completely voluntary and data obtained from it will only be used for the research described. Once individuals have been chosen for participation, links of demographic information to the individual will be deleted. An additional letter from the university will be provided to you the day of the event to ensure that appropriate measures are being taken to limit any risk to you as a participant. If there are any questions related to the event or this research, please direct them to me or the principal investigator, Don Waller.

If you have any questions or comments about this study, I would be happy to talk with you. My cell phone number is 970-227-3310, or you can write to me via email (crall@wisc.edu). Thank you very much for helping with this important research.

Alycia W. Crall
Environment and Resources Program
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Science Program Coordinator The National Institute of Invasive Species Science www.citsci.org mawaters@nrel.colostate.edu

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