Citizen Science: Part III - People making a difference in their community and across the state

If you are looking for something fun to do with the family while helping promote wildlife conservation, consider volunteering with a conservation organization.

Every day, people from across the state are contributing to our knowledge and understanding of Michigan’s bountiful natural resources by contributing their time to collect information that scientists can use to figure out what is going on in the environment. Michigan Sea Grant works with numerous organizations who offer opportunities for interested people to get involved in citizen science.

One such group, the Friends of the Rouge (FOTR), is seeking assistance from people who would like to help search for aquatic insects or listen for frogs and toads in southeast Michigan. According to FOTR’s volunteer monitoring program manager, Sally Petrella, volunteer participation is critical to the success of the projects.

 Get Involved:

Friends of the Rouge have two volunteer monitoring programs – a Frog and Toad Survey and a Benthic Macroinvertebrate Monitoring Program (better known as the Bug Hunts and Stonefly Searches). Both offer opportunities for people to participate as an individual, with their family, or other group and no experience is necessary to start volunteering.

The Rouge Watershed Frog & Toad Survey is a listening survey where people identify what types of frogs and toads are found in an area by listening for their calls. All volunteers must attend a two-hour training session, held in March, and learn the eight calls from a CD provided. Volunteers are assigned quarter square mile blocks, which they survey on their own on damp warm spring evenings when the animals are most likely to call. Results are mapped and provided to all volunteers, as well as to state and local agencies that make decisions about land use.  The survey started in 1998 to assess the health of Rouge River wetlands, which are critical to the health of the Rouge River.

The Benthic Macroinvertebrate Monitoring Program offers group-sampling events three times a year:  a Spring and Fall Bug Hunt and a Winter Stonefly Search. At each event, volunteers are sent out in teams to look for aquatic insects, clams, snails and worms that live in the streambed. No prior experience is needed, but volunteers must preregister. This data has been used since 1998 by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to screen for water quality problems and by FOTR and Rouge communities to assess the health of the river and river restoration projects. 

 Time Commitment:

Frog & Toad Survey – One two-hour training session, then 2-3 evenings after dark for less than one hour each month March through July (minimum, more observations are always welcome).

 Benthic Macroinvertebrate Monitoring – Regular volunteers - events held three times a year, lasting about 6 hours. Team Leaders (next level, for those who have attended an event before) – 6 hour training, commitment to leading a team at 1-3 events, additional identification days (2 hours/2x/year and occasional trainings.

 Skill Level Needed:

Frog & Toad Survey – Observers should be able to identify all eight frog and toad species by their call after attending training and learning calls from CD provided (or website podcast). Trainings are held in March at different locations and times around the watershed; pre-registration is required. Volunteers must be available to go out after dark in varying weather conditions and be willing to collect and submit data from March through July.

 Benthic Macroinvertebrate Monitoring – Regular volunteers need no skills, though experience with aquatic insects, fly fishing, etc., is helpful. All volunteers must pre-register for events. Team Leaders must be able to sample using a D-frame net and identify invertebrates to order after training and with use of keys provided.

 Special Equipment Needed:

Frog & Toad Survey – CD player or iPod, flashlight, field guide available for purchase at workshops but not required.

Benthic Macroinvertebrate Monitoring – FOTR provides all sampling equipment (waders, nets, trays, sorting equipment, specimen jars, etc.).  Cameras, cell phones, snacks, warming devices in cold weather are helpful.

 Other Things to Consider:

Frog & Toad Survey – Open to all ages as long as minor children participate with an adult, volunteers encouraged to participate with family and friends rather than alone. Herps are not to be handled, just listened for. Groups are welcome, but must be flexible about survey dates and times due to weather. Survey blocks are assigned as close to volunteer’s home as possible.

Benthic Macroinvertebrate Monitoring – Open to anyone age five and above as long as minors participate with one participating adult per minor. Groups are welcome but limited to six people (can accommodate more than one group). Sites can be slippery and muddy and adults must be responsible for children at the sites. Event is held rain or shine; volunteers must dress for the weather.

Getting started:

Visit the FOTR website to find training and event dates, choose which to attend and sign up through the website or by calling 313-792-9621.

Making a difference:

Bruce McCulloch began volunteering for us in 2006 shortly after he moved here.  Having left his position as a fish biologist in Canada to move here with his wife, he had some free time and an interest in fish and benthic macroinvertebrates.  Very quickly, he became indispensable to the program.  Bruce is a Team Leader who now helps to train other Team Leaders, he assists in the identification of our bugs and acts as an advisor to the program, contributing articles on unusual findings in our reports and helping with data analysis.  Bruce does all this while raising his two young daughters who visit the office with their dad to the delight of the FOTR staff.

“I have always felt that volunteering is important for many reasons. You volunteer your time because you believe in an organization. You know you are making a difference.  Volunteering also allows you to meet new people and make new friends and contacts.  As a self-proclaimed “Bug Nerd”, sampling and identifying aquatic macroinvertebrates is a labor of love. The discoveries of three species of sensitive caddisflies that were not known to occur in the Rouge River watershed were highlights for me. The volunteer monitoring that is being undertaken provides valuable time series data that can be used to gauge the health of the watershed.”

Check back monthly, as we highlight other volunteer opportunities from our partner organizations and volunteers who are making a difference.

 Part II

Part IV

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