Around 4 percent of the land in New Hampshire is owned by towns and cities but if my experience is anything to go by, a lot of it is a closed book.
“Municipalities don’t always have a lot of good information about the biodiversity and ecology of those lands,” is how Haley Andreozzi, wildlife outreach manager at UNH Extension, put it recently.
I’d call that something of an understatement.
In many towns, especially small ones that don’t have planning or development staff, it’s not uncommon that officials don’t even have a list of all the property they have acquired over the decades, let alone any idea about what lives there.
Same goes for most residents. Do you know all the parcels owned by your town/city? Even if so, do you know which ones have hemlock groves or coyote dens or trout streams or are overrun by invasive plants? Probably not, but would you like to?
Bioblitz to the rescue!
This citizen-science project is set to kick off next week and run during all of September as an expanded version of environment-monitoring efforts like the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. UNH Cooperative Extension calls it a “species scavenger hunt.”
The idea of a bioblitz has been around for a while but traditionally, in New Hampshire and elsewhere, it took place on one day. A group of volunteers would gather in a certain place and, led by knowledgeable guides, spread out and record as much of everything as they could find. The process has been made much easier by apps that allow quick identification and recording of species on tablets or cellphones; no more hard-to-read notes scribbled on clipboards while wading through a swamp.
But gathering together in person isn’t a great idea with COVID-19 surging again, so this year’s Bioblitz in New Hampshire will be online, self-guided, and will last the entire month.
“It’s simple. Go out to town-owned land during the month of September; observe all the different plants and animals, insects and fungi you can find; take photos of what you find; share it on (the app) iNaturalist,” said Andreozzi, who’s overseeing the program.Support the Concord Monitor. Subscribe Today
She notes that there are two obstacles for many people: technology and geography. The website (extension.unh.edu/nhbioblitz) gives extensive details on using iNaturalist, which is fairly straightforward as apps go.
Perhaps more importantly, they have put together an easy-to-use map showing all town-owned lands throughout the state, based on GRANIT, the UNH-based Statewide Geographic Information System.
There you can find parcels that you may be familiar with, like parks and rail trails, as well as a few head-scratchers like Whispering #1, Whispering #3 and Whispering #4, a trio of connected lots in east Concord that must have an interesting back story. I really want to know what happened to #2.
You can use this map to find properties you didn’t know about and check them out. There’s no required list of properties or viewing times; you can do as much as you want all month.
If you are interested, consider touching base with your town’s conservation commission, which might help direct you. The NH Bioblitz website includes links to most of these commissions.
As with all citizen science projects, Bioblitz isn’t a replacement for work by trained researchers. The results will be interesting, particularly if people find something unexpected like new populations of threatened species like timber rattlesnakes or the small whorled pogonia (about which I know nothing but I really like the name), yet they’re not a replacement for a serious wildlife inventory.
Even so, said Andreozzi, they have value. Much of that value comes from getting people out into lands that their taxes help pay for where they can learn more about the state. But even without scientifically statistical underpinning, a scattershot survey can be a good starting point.
“For many towns, any information is more information than they have right now, about invasive plants, for example. It can guide future management decisions, into stewardship plans, forest-management plans,” she said. “Some towns might even be able to use it as a pilot for a natural resource inventory or property inventory.
“It’s one small step for towns to help learn what’s out there.”