Citizen science initiative to monitor area springs

Abe Springer studies stream

Northern Arizona University researchers will benefit from the efforts of citizen scientists who will monitor springs in the areas of northern Arizona’s recent forest thinning.

NAU, along with the conservation group Wildlands Network and the Museum of Northern Arizona, has received a $110,000 grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Funds will be used to develop a monitoring program for the region’s springs and to train volunteers to collect data in the forests.

“This project was motivated directly by the environmental assessment with the Four Forest Restoration Initiative,” said Abe Springer, a professor of hydrogeology and ecohydrology, referring to the restoration of 2.4 million acres in northern Arizona.

“There have been 75 springs identified as receiving benefit from the restoration activities but there were no resources to assess the springs’ response to the thinning, so we developed this project,” Springer said. “We will engage the power of citizens to assist with monitoring the response of these springs to forest restoration.”

In addition to learning how to observe and monitor springs in the forest during the upcoming year, volunteers will be trained to use a smartphone application to record observations.  Volunteers are not required to have a scientific background.

“This application and training will help the public become better stewards of these critical but overlooked ecosystems and will provide vital information about springs’ health,” said Larry Stevens, NAU alumnus and director of the Museum of Northern Arizona’s Springs Stewardship Institute.

In the years ahead, students and researchers at NAU will evaluate data collected by citizen scientists, analyzing the springs’ response to forest treatments and possibly complementing the forest restoration best practices.

The grant that funded this project is one of just 21 awarded to Arizona nonprofit organizations by the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust during the second of two grant cycles this year.