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Citizen scientists assist Wood Buffalo research
New program introduced at national park

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Friday, May 18, 2012

A new initiative to get members of the public involved in and informed about scientific research has been launched at Wood Buffalo National Park.

NNSL photo/graphic

Volunteer Kayla Tulugarjuk examines a red-sided garter snake in Wood Buffalo National Park as part of the Citizen Science Program, which is new to the park this year. - photo courtesy of John David McKinnon, Wood Buffalo National Park

The Citizen Science Program was put into action for two recent projects a survey of owls and a study of red-sided garter snakes.

Helena Katz, a promotion officer with Wood Buffalo, suggested the park adopt the idea, which is used at some other national parks across Canada.

"One of the goals of the Citizen Science Program is to give people in the community, people who don't work for parks, an opportunity to learn about the science and monitoring activities that we do in the park," said Katz, adding that experience will be hands-on participation.

She said sometimes people aren't aware of the park's science and monitoring activities and how they're carried out. "So it really gives people just a chance to go behind the scenes."

The annual owl survey in March and April involved 12 volunteers from the community, while nine volunteers were involved in the red-sided garter snake survey from late April to early May.

Katz said the park is planning to do the owl survey again next year and include the Citizen Science Program.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to do a second program, but that hasn't been determined yet," she said.

The two-year snake survey won't happen again for five years.

Rhona Kindopp, a wildlife biologist with the park, said the snake monitoring program took place at the Salt River hibernaculum, about 25 km south of Fort Smith.

"Over the past couple of times that the survey has been done, people have asked a lot of questions," Kindopp noted. "So this seemed like a good project to connect to the Citizen Science Program."

The youngest citizen scientist was eight-year-old Joel Rhymer of Fort Smith.

"It was very fun," said Joel, who explained he helped catch snakes and assess them.

Joel's father, Clarence Rhymer, also volunteered as a citizen scientist and said it was a great learning experience, especially for his son.

"They treated him as a budding young scientist in an adult fashion," Rhymer said.

Kindopp noted Joel became quite the biologist by the end of his day helping out.

"He was giving tours to the visitors who showed up and sharing everything he learned with them," she said. "So I think it was a really good learning experience for him."

All the volunteers were helpful and enthusiastic, and a real pleasure to work with, she said, adding they helped make the work a little easier.

Katz said she is pleased with the Citizen Science Program, noting, "I think it was a success for our first time out."

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