Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District: Connecting People, Parks and Nature: ‘Citizen Science’ helps Natural Resources track endangered wildlife

by Bill Evans08 Having Fun Doing Citizen Science with THPRD

Citizen Science – research conducted by nonprofessional scientists – is a practice that THPRD’s Natural Resources staff is successfully using to keep track of regionally important animal species and pollinators.

The reason THPRD’s in-house experts are entrusting “amateurs” with this important role is pretty straightforward, says Park Ranger Kyle Spinks.

“If I were to do it myself, it would take about two or three weeks,” said Spinks, who monitors about a dozen sites throughout the district to estimate populations of northern red-legged frogs.

“We need to know where the frogs are, how many there are, if they are breeding. Spreading the task among the volunteers helps us get the data a lot faster.”

About three years ago, THPRD implemented a program that trains volunteers to identify and monitor amphibian egg masses and provide their data to Spinks.

“We can extrapolate their information to get an idea of the size of the breeding population,” he said. “Over time, we get an idea of peak egg mass laying at each site. We can now capture info in a shorter period of time, because we know when amphibians are laying eggs.”

Spinks said similar wildlife survey work is done to monitor turtle populations at several THPRD sites.

“We set up our volunteers with binoculars and give them training so they know what they’re looking at,” he said. “Their species counts help us make better habitat management decisions.”

The citizen scientists have also helped THPRD identify invasive turtles that were a threat to the native population. Volunteers joined Spinks to trap and remove non-native turtles. They also learned more about the natives.

“We were able to capture, tag and release native turtles,” Spinks said. “Next year, we capture the same turtle, weigh it, measure its growth, and look for injuries and illness. We’re able to monitor the heath of the native population as we take out the invasive species.”

He said the volunteer program supports the regional effort by THPRD, Metro, and other agencies committed to conservation and habitat preservation programs through education.

“It’s been cool to get eighth graders into the water in chest waders to look at egg masses,” he added. “It’s something most kids never get to experience.”