Each month volunteers collect water samples in area streams and lakes for the Environmental Quality Lab, a non-profit organization that monitors surface water quality in Western North Carolina. 

These volunteers are among a fast-growing number of citizen scientists who assist environmental organizations, said Alison Ormsby, a professor who teaches environmental studies classes at the University of North Carolina Asheville.

These citizen scientists provide valuable information to the EQI and many other organizations, Ormsby said, speaking to the Sierra Club of Western North Carolina Nov. 1. 

Working within the Volunteer Water Information Network, trained volunteers collect all the water samples taken at approximately 160 streams and lakes, which the EQI tests for pH levels, suspended solids, turbidity and substances such as nitrates, phosphorus and bacteria.

Volunteers also work with a related group, the Stream Monitoring Information Exchange, to collect data about invertebrates—better known as bugs—that live in streams for the EQI.

“The aquatic bug data tells you about water quality over time,” said Ann Marie Traylor, EQI executive director, who was among a panel of speakers at the Sierra Club presentation.

Participants in the volunteer program are trained in monitoring by EQI or partner organizations and receive education about threats to water quality, pollution control.

For more information about volunteering with the EQI programs, send an email to staff@eqilab.org or call 828-357-7411.

Stream monitoring is just one of many opportunities people have to engage in citizen science activities, Ormsby said.

“There’s a citizen science program for anything you’re interested in,” she pointed out.

Bird lovers can participate in eBird, an extensive citizen science project managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which collects data on bird populations. People can sign up for eBird online or through the eBird mobile app and begin contributing information about sightings in their area. The eBird website at https://ebird.org gives detailed information about the process.

People who would like to help monitor animal populations also can become involved with organizations such as FrogWatch USA and iNaturalist, an online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists who map and share observations of biodiversity throughout the world, Ormsby added.

Another opportunity for citizen scientists is with Asheville GreenWorks, an environmental group that is working to identify the problem of tree loss in the city. GreenWorks helps maintain a tree map in cooperation with the City of Asheville Tree Commission. 

“If you like trees, you’d be doing a huge service by mapping trees,” Ormsby said.

Keeping count of trees is increasingly important because Asheville has lost nearly 10 percent of its tree canopy in the last 10 years, said Stephen Hendricks, chairman of the City of Asheville Tree Commission, who also spoke at the presentation.

To review the map, or learn how to add a tree to the inventory, visit the website www.ashevilletreemap.org

Hendricks is encouraging the city to hire an urban forester and develop a master plan for growth, while also re-writing the tree ordinance.

A closely related effort is the Treasured Trees program which accepts voluntary nominations of trees on public and private properties for special designation. Nominations may be made through GreenWorks. An online nomination form is available at www.ashevillegreenworks.org/treasured-trees.

The North Carolina Arboretum also has a volunteer program for citizen scientists who collect data for environmental organizations such as Monarch Watch, Nature’s Notebook, Project NestWatch and iNaturalist. For more information, contact Pat Dillard at 828-665-2492. An informational event about volunteer opportunities at the arboretum is planned for March 2019.

To learn more about the Sierra Club of Western North Carolina and its activities, visit the website at http://www.wenoca.org.


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