Why it’s crucial hunters and anglers participate in citizen science

Participating in citizen science initiatives is one of the easiest ways those who enjoy the outdoors can help themselves. This is especially true of hunters and anglers.

As they saying goes, “we only protect that which we understand.” Those who hunt and fish have a unique grasp and perspective on how nature truly works. And there are some easy ways for us to share our point of view with the people actively seeking our assistance. Providing a helping hand in this regard can pay dividends for all involved and help others understand just why we value the outdoors so much.

Between recording measurements in my rain gauge for CoCoRaHS and entering observations in my eBird app, I try to participate in some level of citizen science every day.

These are, admittedly, small measures. But they are not the only ways to take part in helping the scientists who protect the resources we love through their work.

Reporting harvests, when required, in an accurate and timely fashion gives decision makers much-needed data that helps shape outdoors policy. So does participating in creel surveys or chronic wasting disease testing.

Catch a chinook salmon, rainbow trout, or lake trout with a clipped adipose fin? Bring the head to your local collection location and submit the requested information. Not only does this give those who oversee our fish populations a more complete picture of what is happening in Lake Michigan, you’ll receive some background information on your catch in return.

If you have a trail camera, you can apply to be a volunteer with Snapshot Wisconsin. This program, backed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, helps build a photo database of wildlife activity in designated regions of the state.

In fact, you don’t even need to host a trail camera to participate. The photos from Snapshot Wisconsin are sent to a platform called Zooniverse. This allows members of the public to classify the wildlife present in each photo. This, in turn, converts the photos into usable data that feeds into wildlife management decisions for many local species.

This year, I’ve taken to have my birding app open while out hunting. During a duck hunt on the Wisconsin River, our group encountered a couple flocks of snipe. When I recorded this in the app, I was prompted to provide additional detail because the number of the species I reported was unusually high for the area.

For some reason, this bothered me. It was like the app didn’t believe in my bird identification skills But, after giving it some thought, I realized something. This number may, indeed, be significantly higher than the typical amount of this species reported in a given log. But how many of those reports came from hunters?

Our location was accessed by boat, nestled between the main channel and the backwaters. No reasonable birding enthusiast is likely to put in this type of effort solely in the name of a birding excursion. That’s when it dawned on me: recording the birds I see during a hunt is particularly vital.

When you pair the spot with the time of day we were out, it is highly unlikely that anyone had ever submitted a file of their bird observations that reflected this unique combination of factors.

If you are simply glassing the big water through your binoculars on shore, seeing 12 snipe is, in all likelihood, a tall order. But from the concealment of a proper duck blind, your prospects increase substantially.

One of my local duck spots, a parcel of public land close to home, is frequented by birders. I often think of how much their experiences can vary from mine. It doesn’t make their input any less valuable, but it’s simply not possible for one demographic to provide scientists with the complete picture.

Consider the types of birds you see just before or after shooting hours or during the migration. If someone were to observe the same setting at a different time of day or year, they probably wouldn’t believe there were many coot, mergansers, or green herons around. But those who spend time actively pursuing other game know otherwise.

Think about your favorite deer stand or trout stream. Now take a brief tally of the number of hours you spend in those locations. Who else could possibly have a better idea of what is actually happening in these places? But this knowledge does little for the collective good if it isn’t shared in a constructive way.

As hunters and anglers, we have a truly unique viewpoint on how the natural world functions. This perspective needs to be shared so that we can help wildlife officials, scientists, hikers, birders, an other outdoor enthusiasts have a better grasp of these treasured places through our eyes.

In a world seemingly bent on industrial development, those who enjoy land in its more natural state need to team up to defend the locations we go to when we seek peace, balance, and a different perspective on the world than our regular day-to-day gives us.

Because our culture prioritizes revenue potential and profitability, nature lovers are under increasing pressure to justify the existence of the places they hold dear.

Though, for whatever reasons, it may not always seem like it, those who enjoy the outdoors, however they choose to do it, are on the same team in this regard. A place to continue unifying our standing comes through actively participating in citizen science.

So, next time your local department of natural resources or scientific group provides you the opportunity to participate in one of these initiatives, take advantage. We all stand to benefit.

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