What do you do when a new industry or development comes to your community with the potential to shake-up natural resources?
When the shale and natural gas boom came to Pennsylvania in 2010, many communities throughout the state were confronted with that very question. Large developments sprung up in areas historically spared from energy development, like the Pennsylvania Wilds in north-central PA. All this was happening at the same time state agency budgets were being cut. Non-profits and individuals stepped up to fill in the gaps. One organization, Trout Unlimited (TU), turned to citizen science for help.
Some of the first questions people asked about the shale/gas boom centered around what the activity would mean for water quality and fisheries in streams and rivers throughout Pennsylvania. Many of the smaller streams and rivers weren’t being actively monitored by anyone and it would take a lot of resources (more than any one organization or agency had) to monitor them all. How could there be adequate oversight for all these important bodies of water?
Staff and volunteers at Trout Unlimited recognized an opportunity and got to work figuring out how they could contribute thier expertise to monitor the waters they already knew so well. Eventually they got in touch with researchers from the Dickinson College Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM). ALLARM researchers, who also run their own citizen science projects, helped the TU team develop a workable citizen science protocol for monitoring local waters. The new project became known as Trout Unlimited Coldwater Conservation Corps. The responsibilities of the Corps were straightforward:
- Conduct baseline monitoring in advance of potential development, especially in the many smaller watersheds where no previous data existed
- Identify pollution events through data collection and visual assessments
Shortly after the program launched, TU hired a coordinator to help manage and further development. Later, in 2014, Jacob Lemon took over management of the program as the TU Mid Atlantic Angler Science Coordinator and took the helm. As he put it, “TU Members are primarily recreationists. They’re uniquely suited to being stewards of these waters because they’re already out there using them.” In the beginning, each TU Chapter participating in the program used Excel spreadsheets to collect and store data. Although they did the job, these independent spreadsheets weren’t so great for sharing data across chapters quickly and easily. TU recognized a need to have all of the data captured and stored in an online database. That’s when the Coldwater Conservation Corps began to use CitSci.org for their data collection platform. The Coldwater Conservation Corps gained traction quickly and soon other states wanted to get involved. In West Virginia, TU partnered the WV Rivers Coalition to start a program funded by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the Appalachian Stewardship Foundation. Virginia soon became involved and other states have expressed interest as well. Coldwater Conservation Corps volunteers have done such great work [Here they’re featured in an episode of Crowd and the Cloud on PBS], they’re now being tapped to help with spinoff projects. In recent years, pipeline projects brought up issues of erosion and sedimentation, there’s been interest in environmental DNA tracking of brook trout, and the USGS is interested in help with water temperature sensor deployment to model the effects of climate change on thermal habitat. With all the activity going on, where will the Coldwater Conservation Corps go from here? Jacob’s hope is that the Corps and TU continue to develop a network of partners and volunteers that are easily mobilized to respond to new issues as they arise. TU Chapters excel at coordinating and implementing on the ground projects. He wants to see that continue and equip chapters with resources to monitor the effects of the projects they implement. In that way, TU can continue to develop a portfolio of what works and what doesn’t. TU will also continue working with agencies to ensure that data collected through Corps projects are useable by agencies. By partnering with the West Virginia DEP, Conservation Districts in Pennsylvania and others, they’re already seeing their citizen science data being used and building more confidence for future use of the data by agencies. With 300+ citizen science volunteers monitoring over 1,000 locations already, the Coldwater Conservation Corps is playing a valuable role in caring for our nation’s water resources. Interested in getting involved? Get in touch with Jacob Lemon (by email: jlemon at tu.org) and learn more about what’s happening in your area. Trout Unlimited Projects on CitSci.org:
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Cover photo by: Jacob Lemon, Trout Unlimited