Community News

News Release: Kaibab National Forest kicks off third year of citizen science project aimed at engaging visitors and documenting biodiversity

February 14, 2019

 Williams, Ariz., Feb. 14, 2019—For Immediate Release. Forest Service biologists are inviting eager naturalists, outdoor enthusiasts, and amateur scientists to join the citizen science team and help in documenting the plants and animals that inhabit the Kaibab National Forest. At the beginning of the year, forest specialists launched the Kaibab NF 2019 Citizen Science Project through the free online iNaturalist platform so that visitors can share pictures of flora and fauna they’ve discovered on the forest.

This is the third year that the Kaibab National Forest has promoted an iNaturalist citizen science project, and the observations recorded are helping to improve forest managers’ understanding of the abundance and distribution of species.

“iNaturalist is an amazing platform that was created to document biodiversity throughout the world,” said Natasha Kline, forest biologist on the Kaibab National Forest. “While we’ve scaled it down to the forest level for our project, these observations are both improving forest management practices and wider scientific knowledge.”

When Kaibab National Forest visitors capture photos of plants or animals and share them through iNaturalist, they are contributing to a global biodiversity database. The iNaturalist platform shares findings with scientific repositories to help scientists around the world find and use data. They are also contributing to understanding species closer to home, as Kaibab National Forests biologists are monitoring project-specific findings and participating in helping to identify and confirm local discoveries.

Since the start of this citizen science effort, visitors and employees have made more than 5,000 observations across the Kaibab National Forest. This has included more than 800 different species of plants, birds, insects, mammals, reptiles, fishes and more. Unsurprisingly, due to its abundance in northern Arizona, ponderosa pine holds the top spot for most observations. Other discoveries, however, have proven much more telling about current forest conditions, leading to the potential to help inform future management approaches.

“We didn’t have any physical documentation regarding burrowing owls in the forest,” Kline said. “We’ve had verbal reports of people seeing them but not much else. Over the course of our citizen science projects, though, we have now received two photos of burrowing owls near the end of the breeding season. These kinds of unique observations, when verified, can lead to important scientific documentation.”

The Kaibab National Forest’s citizen science effort has also led to at least one rather remarkable discovery. In 2017, iNaturalist user “birding4fun” posted images of a distinct-looking beetle that turned out to not only be rare but also have no previous photographic evidence in the scientific literature. The insect was identified by a beetle expert on the platform as a Typocerus gloriosus beetle, one of the rarest longhorn beetles in the United States. The observation earned iNaturalist’s “Observation of the Week” title and caught the attention of a variety of media outlets.

Whether rare or common, observations shared as part of the Kaibab NF 2019 Citizen Science Project can help inform forest and wildlife management and provide information about species that might not have previously been known. The iNaturalist platform assists managers by documenting the presence of rare or introduced species so that actions can then be taken to help protect or eradicate them.

Forest managers encourage those interested to “See, Snap, and Share” their Kaibab National Forest discoveries through iNaturalist as part of the citizen science effort. iNaturalist offers the free app for both the iPhone and Android, which makes uploading observations easy. Through the platform, forest visitors can record and organize nature findings, meet other nature enthusiasts, and learn about the natural world.

“These citizen science projects enhance the visitor experience while providing the Kaibab with valuable information about our resources,” said Mark Christiano, GIS coordinator for the Kaibab National Forest. “In 2019, I’m looking forward to creating more educational and outreach opportunities for forest visitors, showing them how they can use iNaturalist to learn more about our forest’s amazing plants and wildlife. I’m hoping to encourage visitors to explore trails and document their fantastic observations.”

Through connecting different perceptions and expertise of the natural world, iNaturalist seeks to create extensive community awareness of local biodiversity and promote further exploration of local environments.

To learn more, visit the Kaibab NF 2019 Citizen Science Project on iNaturalist.

Kaibab National Forest information is also available through the following sources:

        Kaibab National Forest Website: