Published on Wed, 06/13/2018 by Nature Conservancy of Canada

Volunteers use technology to help form a clearer picture of conservation

Technology and nature aren’t as separate as they seem. Here at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), we’ve been integrating the use of technology increasingly into our field work and Conservation Volunteers (CV) events.

“This type of information is crucial to identifying areas in Canada that need protection, monitoring our existing lands and assessing what conservation actions are needed.” - Dan Kraus, NCC's national conservation biologist

In all 10 of our provinces, NCC is working to protect important natural areas and the species they sustain.

“Our staff are in the field are tracking some of Canada’s most endangered species and habitats. Using technology, they’re able to snap photos of endangered shorebirds emerging from nests, quickly attach maps, geo-reference the site and send that to our offices,” said Dan Kraus, NCC’s national conservation biologist. “This type of information is crucial to identifying areas in Canada that need protection, monitoring our existing lands and assessing what conservation actions are needed.”

Using technology to better conservation isn’t just for NCC scientists. Volunteers from coast to coast have used their smartphones and NCC-provided iPads at events to track observations and map, for example, their progress removing litter and/or invasive species in real-time.

Upper North Saskatchewan River Basin, Coyote Lake, Alberta (Photo by Karol Dabbs)

Technology use, excluding the use of GPS, was first introduced in 2011 at a CV planting event on our Fleming property, in the Upper North Saskatchewan River Basin Nature Area in Alberta. Volunteers used iPads to record where trees were planted in an effort to revegetate an old crop field. Similar tracking occurred in 2014–2015 at our Lawrence property, also in Alberta. One of the long-term goals on this site is to bring back the diversity of understory vegetation and increase streambank health — a goal volunteers have helped achieve by planting willow cuttings along streams and wetlands on the property.

“What’s truly great about advances in technology is that they allow volunteers to play a greater role in data collection and monitoring, on the ground,” says Kailey Setter, NCC’s national manager, conservation engagement. “Now anyone with a phone or tablet can easily snap a geo-referenced picture and submit it for conservationists to reference.”

The annual Sandy Point beach sweep event in Newfoundland and Labrador used the Marine Debris Tracker app to tally how much litter was collected and what type of garbage was picked up. This fall, the app will also be used at a CV event on PEI’s Holman’s Island to track and record the debris that is removed from the shoreline.

CVs use apps such as iNaturalist and eBird to record their findings at bird surveys and bioblitzes from the Atlantic region to BC.

Using a Trimble to record invasive species at Hazel Bird Nature Reserve, ON (Photo by Cameron Curran)

This spring, CVs will have the chance to venture out to the Susut conservation easement in central Alberta. As well as hearing about the property’s history from the landowner and lending a hand to remove some barbed wire, participants will go on a guided hike of the property, where, using iNaturalist, they will record the species they see along the way.

Not all of the technology used in the field can play music or make calls like an iPhone can. More traditional conservation-related technology, such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and cameras, are used to track data and connect people to nature in new and innovative ways through the use of technology.

NCC has an ongoing partnership with the Birtle Collegiate’s outdoor education and wildlife management program in western Manitoba. This multi-year mammal monitoring project will continue through to winter 2018.

Students in the program are learning practical field skills through workshops and field work, such as how to use GPS units, digital cameras and trail cameras (including cellular network-enabled units), as well as orienteering, general wildlife identification, winter survival techniques, field data collection, and image and data processing.

Several of the trail cameras that have been set up around Fort Ellice Property, near St. Lazare, transmit images over a cellular network, enabling the images to be viewed almost immediately by students in the classroom and by NCC staff back at the office.

The data is then analyzed to provide better insights into how wildlife use the property’s various habitats, such as sandhill and mixed-grass prairie, oak savannah, wetlands, upland and riverbank forests.

Volunteer observations collected from across the country from NCC-protected areas help us paint a clearer picture of local biodiversity and allow us to better understand the landscape and the species that live there.

To take part in a Conservation Volunteers activity near you, check out our calendar of events or visit conservationvolunteers.ca.

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using_a_trimble_to_record_invasive_species_at_hazel_bird_nature_reserve_on_photo_by_cameron_curran.jpgUsing a Trimble to record invasive species at Hazel Bird Nature Reserve, ON (Photo by Cameron Curran)4.14 MB
upper_north_saskatchewan_river_basin_coyote_lake_alberta_photo_by_karol_dabbs.jpgUpper North Saskatchewan River Basin, Coyote Lake, Alberta (Photo by Karol Dabbs)4.9 MB