A New National Effort to Increase Citizen Science Capacity to Map Invasive Species in America’s Wild Places.
White Bear Lake, MN – In partnership with the University of Georgia - Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, USDA Forest Service, and other organizations across the United States, Wildlife Forever has launched a nationwide citizen science volunteer capacity-building program called Wild Spotter. Designed to help locate and map aquatic and terrestrial invasive species in Wilderness Areas, Wild & Scenic Rivers, and other wild places across the 193 million-acre National Forest System,
Press Release Image 300x300lf2 4this new program engages and empowers the public, local communities, states, tribes, and many other groups to help the Forest Service confront the threats from harmful exotic plants, animals, and pathogens that invade America’s beautiful and economically important wild places. The Wild Spotter program provides the tools these volunteers need to help locate, quantify, map, and report invasive species infestations in a simple and effective manner, while raising public awareness about invasive species and promoting collaborations across the landscape.
“We started the collaboration with these great partners to design and build the Wild Spotter program to expand citizen science volunteer capacity on 12 pilot National Forests and Grasslands distributed from East to West across the U.S., primarily to gather important occurrence data on invasive species and how they are impacting Wilderness Areas, Wild & Scenic Rivers, and other Natural Areas”, said Mike Ielmini, National Invasive Species Program Manager in the USDA Forest Service headquarters in Washington, D.C. The first set of National Forest System units participating in the Wild Spotter program, includes the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest (Idaho), Lincoln National Forest (New Mexico), Santa Fe National Forest (New Mexico), Bridger-Teton National Forest (Wyoming), Payette National Forest (Idaho), Wallowa-Whitman National Forest (Oregon), Siuslaw National Forest (Oregon), Ozark-St. Francis National Forest (Arkansas), Daniel Boone National Forest (Kentucky), Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (Wisconsin), Monongahela National Forest (West Virginia), and Shawnee National Forest (Illinois). Additional National Forests and Grasslands and other wild places across America will be added annually.
“As many new partners and groups scrambled to join this effort, and the demand increased for more places to be added to the Wild Spotter effort, we quickly realized the potential this program had to rapidly accelerate citizen-science support nationwide to address the invasive species threat, not just for National Forest Wilderness Areas and other wild places, but across the entire landscape. We have designed the program to benefit everyone across the landscape and boost citizen science capacity while raising public awareness and action”, Ielmini added.
The elements within the Wild Spotter program provide adaptable tools and technologies for engaging a diverse array of public stakeholders and user groups, including natural resource agencies looking for community engagement opportunities. Utilizing a targeted list of “most wanted” species, volunteers receive information and support to get started as a Wild Spotter volunteer all free. Once a Wild Spotter volunteer identifies and reports a species, the data is verified by experts and then made publically available through a networked invasive species inventory database hosted by the University of Georgia.
“The invasive species identification and mapping technology of Wild Spotter is based on the national Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System – EDDMapS for short”, said Chuck Bargeron, Associate Director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, and one of the principal partners working with the Forest Service on the project. Bargeron noted that by using EDDMapS as a platform for the Wild Spotter program, it allows everyone to help locate, quantify, and map invasions anywhere in the country.
“We are very proud that Wild Spotter is expanding citizen science volunteer capacity against invasive species by capitalizing on the outdoor activities of millions of people who are already enjoying some of the most beautiful places in America, to help us gather information on the locations of these harmful exotic invaders in any ecosystem. Like the idea of ‘see-something, say-something’ the Wild Spotter greatly enhances the early detection and rapid response capabilities of agencies like the Forest Service”, said Bargeron. “Mapping, quantifying, and reporting new infestations early helps our biologists and other land managers to implement better strategies for prevention, control, and eradication”, said Allen Rowley, Director of the Forest Management, Rangeland Management, and Vegetation Ecology Units for the Forest Service in Washington, D.C.
Invasive species threaten access, productivity, and ecosystem health to millions of acres of public and private lands and waters. Congressionally-designated Wilderness Areas, Wild & Scenic Rivers, and other natural areas are extremely vulnerable to invasion, and represent some of America’s best intact landscapes that must be maintained in their natural state for native plants and animals to flourish. “The Wild Spotter program expands our ability to accomplish mandated Wilderness stewardship responsibilities against invasive species, with the help of the public, and ultimately protect these wild places from the associated degrading effects of aquatic and terrestrial invasive species. This is especially exciting to launch the Wild Spotter program in the same year as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act”, said Sue Spear, Director of the USDA Forest Service’s Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River Resources.