Keeping a Forest Whole

▹ EwA conservation study presented at NENHC 2023 and C*Sci 2023

Authors: Claire O’Neill and Mina Burton | Earthwise Aware

🔗 Poster | 🔗 Presentation » full/flash | 📰 Handout

The Power of Community-driven GIS-focused Participatory Science

In Massachusetts, a community has formed around co-creative participatory science using a novel integration of land use, biodiversity, and climate documentation data to help save their forest.

Participatory scientists employ a novel integration of land use, biodiversity, and climate documentation to help save their local forest. Earthwise Aware (EwA) is a conservation nonprofit running biodiversity and climate participatory research projects in the Middlesex Fells Reservation (known as the Fells) and elsewhere in the Greater Boston Area since 2018. The Fells is a designated Important Bird Area that supports many forms of wildlife, including endangered plant and animal species, unique natural communities, and over 150 vernal pools. 

An example of co-created science. 

Witnessing the explosion of habitat fragmentation in 2020, the EwA community sprung into action and expanded its participatory science program to not only document biodiversity but also to study the many potential fragmentation factors in their forests. 

Wind turbines standing on a grassy plain, against a blue sky.

Eyes in the Field–A Memorable Discovery (📹 Video): Mid-February 2023, EwA participatory scientists and naturalists spotted the first marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum) larva since 1932 in the forest that they document and protect. Can you spot it in the photo? This discovery illustrates the importance of engaging local community members to observe and record biodiversity in urban areas, as well as their impact in the field of conservation science and advocacy.

Since 2021, EwA conservationists have documented habitat conditions in the Fells to scientifically quantify and qualify recreation usage impact on the fauna, flora, and critical habitats and to mitigate further damage. 

The project’s multi-dimensional approach synthesizes data from EwA’s participatory science programs, such as park usage surveys, biological pollution surveys, informal trail assessments, natural community descriptions, and vernal pool documentation with existing data from governmental organizations and third parties. 

From this data, EwA has developed interactive mapping tools using geographic information systems (GIS) that land managers and stakeholders can use to inform conservation actions.

The outcome of this project includes knowledge, impact, and recognition for its participatory scientists. Through this work, EwA and its community empower others to advocate for urban forests.

🔗 Poster | 🔗 Presentation » full/flash  | 📰 Handout | 🗺️  Explore the Fells Map

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