People that spend time out on the landscape often have information that can be useful for monitoring wildlife populations, and the collection of these data is referred to as citizen science. Unfortunately, citizen science programs often have a variety of pitfalls, and there are rarely opportunities to include this type of information into management programs. Our team has worked to develop a citizen science program that can fully utilize the wealth of local knowledge and experiences of people working across BMA1, within a scientifically rigorous framework.
The objectives of GrizzTracker are to:
1. Record opportunistic sightings of grizzly bears in a scientifically defensible way, allowing for integration of land-users experience with science-based decision making. This would greatly improve the utility of citizen science data collection in a variety of other research programs.
2. Provide opportunities for public involvement, education, and awareness related to grizzly bears and landscape management. Public engagement is critical not only for achieving wildlife management objectives, but also for building and maintaining social licence operating on the landscape and encouraging a stewardship ethic.
3. Continue to build and strengthen relationships, facilitate dialogue, data sharing, and knowledge transfer between organizations interested in the BMA 1 landscape.
Previous efforts to use opportunistic wildlife sightings have been hampered by limited information on variation in observer effort through space (where people are searching) and time (when people are searching). This shortfall has severely limited how useful many citizen science programs area. GrizzTracker is a specially designed smartphone app that attempts to overcome these hurdles.
To do this, GrizzTracker will record the spatial and temporal distribution of observer effort by collecting GPS location “pings” from smartphone users. But have no fear – location pings and user information is all totally anonymous! (all app users are issued a number). However, this location information is incredibly important – as previously noted, by collecting it we can determine how much time an app user spends “looking for grizzlies” in their day-to-day activities, across a certain area. With this in hand, we can then relate the distribution of grizzly bear sightings, through both space and time, to our distribution of observer effort.
This allows us figure out where grizzly bears are being seen or not, and how frequently, based on how much a user is “looking” for bears in an area. This data will enable grizzly bear occurrence to be displayed across BMA1. It will also help with monitoring seasonal patterns in grizzly bear occurrence near human-use areas, and can be used to develop real-time safety alerts for industry and other people working across BMA1. Even more broadly, the general public can learn about population monitoring techniques, Alberta BearSmart, and what we find through citizen contributions to grizzly bear data collection.
Overall, engaging industry and agriculture personnel, and the broader public, in reporting sightings will encourage stewardship of grizzly bears and their habitat. And that’s something we’re all striving for.
For questions or comments, please contact Courtney Hughes at Courtney.Hughes@gov.ab.ca