October 10, 2016

Citizen scientists help take inventory of wildlife

Volunteer “neighborhood naturalists” and Open Space Lands Program Manager Lewis Kogan take an inventory of wildlife during a “bioblitz” at the Fife Wetlands Preserve near 900 S. 1100 W. This snowy egret was spotted at the Fife Wetlands Preserve in May.
Volunteer “neighborhood naturalists” and Open Space Lands Program Manager Lewis Kogan take an inventory of wildlife during a “bioblitz” at the Fife Wetlands Preserve near 900 S. 1100 W.|This snowy egret was spotted at the Fife Wetlands Preserve in May.||| Volunteer “neighborhood naturalists” and Open Space Lands Program Manager Lewis Kogan take an inventory of wildlife during a “bioblitz” at the Fife Wetlands Preserve near 900 S. 1100 W.|This snowy egret was spotted at the Fife Wetlands Preserve in May.||| Photos by Dan Potts|Photos by Dan Potts|||
By The West View

by Dan Potts

In less than two hours on a Saturday in May a small group of citizen scientists fanned out across a 7 ½-acre wetlands preserve in west Salt Lake City and made 210 observations of 44 different wildlife species.

The day could not have been more beautiful, as these nature-curious volunteers combed the new Fred and Ila Rose Fife Wetland Preserve on 900 South and the Jordan River looking for plant and animal life to photograph with their cell phone and tablet cameras. They were helping to launch Salt Lake City Open Space Lands pilot “SLC Neighborhood Naturalists” program by participating in a “bioblitz,” where volunteers find and identify as many species as possible in a given place during a given time, and have fun connecting with nature in the process.

The Fife Wetlands Preserve was largely created with funding from Chevron as mitigation for their 2010 oil spill in Red Butte Creek, and also from SLC’s Capital Improvement Fund. The Salt Lake County Fish and Game Association, a longtime wildlife-oriented nonprofit that I am involved with, drafted the original plan for the preserve’s general layout. Early on, it was displayed at Poplar Grove’s “Groove in the Grove” community festival to allow west side residents to give input to the city about what was then called the Oxbow Wetlands project.

Several years later it is amazing how similar the project reflects what came out of that grassroots effort. Creation of a large off-channel pond, and efforts to restore native vegetation have largely been successful, however the implementation of future best practices and some introductions of other native plants and animals will be necessary for the site to reach its full potential of attracting and retaining diverse, non-habituated wildlife. These bioblitzes should help.

One of the most significant efforts for any long-term restoration project like The Fife Wetlands Preserve is monitoring the ecological changes over time. In partnership with The Natural History Museum of Utah, the city is utilizing volunteers to help accomplish this lofty monitoring goal by organizing ongoing bioblitz events at various natural open space sites around the city.

SLC Neighborhood Naturalist volunteers attempt to create baseline inventories of biodiversity at these sites by taking photos and uploading them to a website through an app called iNaturalist, a social network created for people all over the world who make observations of living organisms. The observations are stored on the website, and can be confirmed by other iNaturalist users. Land managers can then share that information with the public and can use the inventory as a guide for future nature restoration projects.

To help get a more complete inventory of shy, migratory birds (like the snowy egret, local kingfisher, and a lesser goldfinch I was able to photograph at the preserve before the eager group of bioblitz volunteers arrived), individuals and local naturalists who visit the site more routinely could add to the collection of observations using the iNaturalist app on their own time.

To find out how you can participate in future SLC Neighborhood Naturalists bioblitz events, visit http://nhmu.utah.edu/slc-neighborhood-naturalists, and to learn more about wildlife species at the Fife Wetlands Preserve and along the Jordan River Corridor, visit http://www.inaturalist.org/guides/3247 and http://jordanrivercommission.com/plants-animals-and-water/