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Citizen Science: The Next Frontier in Conservation of Public Lands

Track: Academics
Region: West

Create a map to connect the outdoor industry with conservation organizations to forge a network of environmental citizen scientists

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What is your project?

What is Citizen Science?:

Citizen science, sometimes referred to as Public Participation in Scientific Research, is an emerging field where non-scientists participate in scientific studies.  The level of involvement varies from study design, data collection and analysis or providing input from afar and anonymously, what is most commonly referred to as 'crowdsourcing.'  As technology improves, we now carry scientific data collection tools in our pockets.  Mobile phones equipped with camera, audio, altimeters, GPS and applications allow us to engage with the world and share information in real-time.  Some examples of technology and citizen science merging are: iNaturalist, which allows you to snap a photo of a species and upload it to a social network for identification.  EBird, an online platform where you can upload bird sightings to contribute to a map that scientists can use to track species migration.  Citizen science essentially harnesses the “wisdom of the crowd” principle where many minds are better than one.

What do I want to do?:

I want to focus on citizen science as a vehicle for environmental engagement.  To do this I will connect with outdoor enthusiasts, adventure athletes, environmental advocates and conservation scientists around the country to strengthen their overlapping relationship.  To strengthen this relationship I will create a map that can be used by a variety of different organizations to tap into people who recreate in the great outdoors and are willing to help environmental organizations in collecting data.  Public land management agencies, non profits and advocacy organizations could use this map to locate an army of citizen scientists that can help them further their studies.


Scientists are at a premium in this world.  According to the US Department of Labor in 2010 there were 30,000 Conservation Scientists in the US.  That said, there are over 278,000,000 people who recreate in and visit our National Parks.  What is so opportunistic about that discrepancy in numbers?  Well in order to protect the clean air, drinking water and wildlife in our nation we need data to understand what is out there and get the big picture on what is being threatened, why and how.  That’s where the limiting factor of scientists comes into play.  

Science is simply the art of careful observation over time.  With mobile technology growing exponentially the barriers for communication are dropping. Therefore people who play in the outdoors, and who have access to a mobile phone (or even paper and then a computer at home or at the library) can help the scientists to collect data to help protect the places we all love and count on for our survival.

Detailed Project Summary:

I want to focus on the applications for citizen science as a means to connect the outdoor industry with conservation organizations to collect vital data that can better inform land management policy and other environmental conservation initiatives such as payments for ecosystem services.  In order to forge this connection I propose to create a map that will profile outdoor industry organizations and conservation organizations in each city that are willing to participate in a scientific collaboration for the greater good of land conservation.  This map will serve as a virtual liaison, connecting people from both sides, and will be able to be edited.

With so many citizen science projects already underway across the nation this map will be a great way for groups to contact and share with each other the work they are already doing or the potential for collaboration.  This will hopefully leverage their overlapping relationship, they love deeply, care and recreate in the great outdoors (America’s Best Idea, remember?).

Want some examples of what Citizen Scientists do?:  


Bioblitz National Geographic


California Academy of Sciences

Audubon Society  

Want to know more of what qualifies me to conduct this project?: 

Check out my field video resume here.

How does a citizen scientist project work?

  1. A scientist proposes a study on protected lands.  Inventorying a rare plant that is an indicator for climate change.
  2. Scientists and a liaison sit down to develop protocols.  An informal science education organization or education institution determine what to look for, i.e. plant, location, weather, variables that are easy for non-scientists to observe.
  3. Both scientist and liaison determine how to relay that data to the scientists.  Currently there is an app called iNaturalist that allows you to record observations for these types of projects, or for the mobile phone-less there is always paper that can be recorded to computer afterwards.
  4. Outreach to outdoors enthusiasts begin, training is held on how to collect this data.
  5. Data set begins to grow as more observers join in on the project.
  6. Scientist/organization interpret and summarize data and make a conclusion.
  7. Policy makers receive the results of this study and can manage lands with a precise goal in mind.  Study shows rare plant is densely populated at a higher elevation, indicating presence of climate change adaptation, managers devise strategies on how to manage climate change influence and protect rare plants survival.

What is your perception of the future, and how does your project respond to that perception?

My perception of the future is watching the barriers to civic engagement drop with the aid of technology.  My project aims to respond to this perception through using technology to enable open participation in the conservation of public lands.  It's my hope and dream that people will use these tools to become more active in making the world a better place.

How will you use your time in each city to advance your project?

In each city I plan to interview and profile one outdoor industry professional, one land management agency and one already existing citizen science program/informal science education organization in order to profile them for my map.  

What is your project designed to accomplish?

My project is designed to be used as a communications tool for outdoor industry professionals, environmental non profits and government land management agencies to connect with each other in order to build citizen science collaboratives. 

How do you plan to share the outcome of your project and the impact of your MTP experience with others?

I will create a website that will host this map that can be freely edited and used by anyone.  Then I will share it using a variety of different outlets such as social media, professional networks and organizations like Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation that are committed to doing this exact type of work.  

Elizabeth Tyson

About Elizabeth Tyson

Elizabeth graduated with an MS from Colorado State University & El Colegio de la Frontera Sur in Chiapas, Mexico as part of the first cohort of an innovative graduate program called Conservation Leadership. This program trained her to understand challenges facing conservation from the natural sciences, social science, cross-culturally and most importantly leadership. Her thesis work in Mexico focused on training rural coffee farmers how to use mobile phones to collect important natural resource data for themselves and fellow conservation organizations. She is now enamored with the field of Citizen Science and wants people who play in wild places to find out how they can protect them as well! Mobile technology allows us all to be part of the solution.

June 24, 2013 - Thank you!

I want to thank the overwhelming support of my family and friends on this initiative!  All it took was one minute of support from a family member or friend to help me to have confidence.  Thank you!  

Latest development is contacting local newspapers and magazines that may be interested in sharing this project to help build non-personal support for my campaign.