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College of Forestry and Conservation

Citizen Science

Developing and engaging a citizenry dedicated to wilderness monitoring and stewardship.

Volunteer for Conservation in the Frank Church Wilderness

Photo by Selway-Bitteroot Frank Church Foundation

Backpack into the Frank Church Wilderness this summer, and help care for these spectacular landscapes.

Join us this summer to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and the Wilderness Institute's 10th summer of volunteer-powered wilderness stewardship!

This summer, the Wilderness Institute will take small groups of volunteers on 3-7 day backpacking trips to clear trails in the Frank Church Wilderness. Come lend a hand, master saw skills and trail brushing techniques, clean water bars, monitor impacts, and explore spectacular country. Ready to explore seldom-visited terrain and acquire a taste for wilderness trail work? This is the summer to join us.

Backcountry experience is helpful but not necessary; trained field staff will provide project oversight and volunteer training. Volunteers must come prepared to work hard and pull their own weight, but providing learning opportunities and new experiences is integral to our volunteer-powered projects. Delicious dinners are provided daily, and transportation is available from Missoula and select towns in the study area vicinity.

2014 Volunteer Trip Dates**

June 27-30 (Fri-Mon) Salmon River Trail-- Mackey Bar to Whitewater

July 4-8 (Fri-Tues)Salmon River Trail-- Whitewater to Rattlesnake Bar

July 12-15 (Sat-Tues)HellsHalf Acre Spring-- Magruder Corridor

July 19-23 (Sat-Wed) Sabe Creek-- Magruder Corridor

Aug 9-11 (Sat-Mon) Salmon Mtn to Kim Creek Saddle-- Magruder Corridor

Aug 15-19 (Fri-Tues) Poet Creek to Dry Saddle -- Magruder Corridor

Sept 11-15 (Thurs-Mon) Magruder Corridor

**Trip routes subject to change depending on conditions encountered

Specific outcomes for this year's volunteer trips will include:

Background on the Citizen Science Program

The Wilderness Institute’s Citizen Science Program builds on a growing movement that engages citizen volunteers in monitoring the ecological and social aspects of our wildlands.  Wilderness stewardship is increasingly jeopardized by declining federal dollars available to wilderness managers.  Since 2005, the Wilderness Institute has worked closely with agency and community partners to address this short-fall by recruiting citizens to help trained field staff assess on-the-ground conditions, perform basic stewardship activities, and monitor wilderness character.

Citizen science in wilderness provides an opportunity to broaden civic engagement in wilderness stewardship. Citizens often have local knowledge of particular ecosystems and can help managers and scientists understand the broader social, economic, and political context of changes occurring in wilderness. Through citizen science, citizens can also build community capacity to use science to understand ecological change, and inform discussions with land managers on issues of wilderness management.

The Citizen Science Program includes:

Volunteer-powered Wilderness Character Monitoring

Through our citizen monitoring project, community volunteers monitor weed invasion, recreational impacts, and selected elements of wilderness character across designated Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas in Montana.  Since 2005, over 350 community volunteers have helped survey trails through seven Wilderness and seven Wilderness Study Areas, generating baseline data that is being used to assess current, localized conditions and broader ecological, physical and social trends.  Monitoring reports provide managers and citizens with critical information to inform stewardship activities and decision-making, protect native wildlife habitats, and help maintain quality recreational opportunities in these special places. Find out more about our citizen monitoring program here.

Trail Condition Invetory and Trail Work

In 2014, the Forest Service has asked the Wilderness Institute and the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation (SBFC) to recruit citizen volunteers to help trained field staff document trail conditions, assist with trail clearing, and monitor wilderness character across portions of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.  Both the Forest Service and the public are increasingly concerned about degraded trail conditions and restricted public access across parts of these two wilderness areas.  Our goal is to implement user-friendly protocols to record critical large-scale trail conditions issues, while directly addressing smaller-scale trail-clearing needs.  Our work will inform efforts to design and maintain a sustainable trail system by providing wilderness managers with a more specific picture of on-the-ground conditions, while simultaneously helping to restore public access and recreation opportunities across key portions of these two wilderness areas.  Field crews will also collect data on wilderness character, including piloting volunteer-friendly protocols for measuring soundscape and solitude, and inventory of invasive weeds and recreation sites.  Our citizen-powered program supports regional efforts to bring wilderness character monitoring to the forefront of how managers approach decision-making in designated wilderness. 

Invasive Species Mitigation

Field leaders and citizen volunteers mitigate the spread of invasive weeds in Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas through targeted hand-pulling and thorough inventories of weed infestations.  Data collected exposes patterns and pathways of weed invasion and guides mitigation and restoration efforts.  Outreach promotes public awareness of the impact invasive species have on the integrity of our public lands, and the role individuals can play in curbing this spread.

Community Involvement, Outreach, and Capacity-Building

The Wilderness Institute builds community capacity for involvement in public lands management by engaging community organizations and volunteer citizens in project planning, interpretation of results, and on-the-ground conservation and monitoring of Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas.  The Institute also offers public presentations to advance discussions about citizen science and broaden the way communities, agencies, and individuals think about both science and civic engagement. Ultimately, we aspire to promote the health of our wilderness ecosystems by helping to build a local constituency invested in and connected to nearby public lands.

Wilderness Institute Monitoring Reports

Wilderness Institute Citizen Science in the News

WAG Tales, Winter 2013

UM's Greater Yellowstone Magazine, pg 76

Great Falls Tribune, July 12, 2012

Billings Gazette article, August 9, 2012

Montana Public Radio interview, June 16th, 2011

Billings Gazette article, July 14th, 2011

Bozeman Chronicle Op Ed, June 18th, 2011

TV News 2006, link to video