Citizen Science: The Idaho Master Naturalist

By HOLLY ENDERSBY

Phyllis King is anything but leisurely retired: she’s a whirling dervish of energy and volunteerism that would leave most people decades younger exhausted. From her home near Island Park, Phyllis uses her Idaho Master Naturalist (IMN) background to engage in volunteer projects for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, The Nature Conservancy, The Henry’s Fork Foundation, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, and the US Forest Service.

“For me, it’s mostly about citizen science,” King said. “IMN members interested in citizen science help to gather information or do projects, t support the agencies and foundations who are our partners.”

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game developed and promoted the IMN program with chapters scattered around the state. The purpose of the program is to “develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to actively work toward stewardship of Idaho’s natural environment,” according to the IMN website.

Two tracks are available: Citizen Science and Education, although many IMN members blend the two.

“One of the projects our chapter has been involved in is water monitoring for clarity, temperature, stream bed erosion, oxygenation, and changes over time for The Henry’s Fork Foundation,” explained King. “We’ve also taken part in acoustic bat monitoring for IDFG, working at night to identify the location where bats roost and feed.”

Another important project King worked on was constructing beaver dam analogs (human-created dams to mimic natural ones) and starter lodges.

“We also returned later to do a little more work to encourage the beavers to stay put and to give them some protection while they got established.”

King and her fellow IMN’s monitored areas where IDFG had collared bears to document their habitat preferences, what they might have eaten by checking on scat, and where daybeds could be found.

Add to that swan surveys for IDFG at Silver Lake and Swan Lake and rebuilding jack fences at Harriman State Park for Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, and you get a feeling for the wide range of activities King engages in.

King said she and her fellow IMN’s have also helped IDFG by taking a tracking class then going out “to document where elk and moose approach or cross US HWY 20.”

The tracking class is an example of the kind of on-going education that master naturalists receive.

“The data we collect from the dead animals along the Montana/Idaho border is important information for wildlife managers,” King explained. “We identify the species, what its general condition was before death, the sex, and possible age of the animal before we remove it from the roadway.”

Another partner, The Nature Conservancy, worked with Henry’s Fork Chapter of IMN to take down old barbed wire and install new wire at the Flat Ranch Preserve as well as planting willows along a stream to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

“We also located and documented curlews, did a songbird point -count survey, and conducted a flammulated owl survey at the Flat Ranch Preserve,” shared Phyllis.

According to King, the important thing to understand about the IMN program is the education provided gives you the skills to participate in many different kinds of activities. Each IMN must complete forty hours of education and volunteer 40 hours within two years before they can be certified. After that initial certification, INM’s need 8 years of education yearly and 40 hours of volunteering to be recertified. Chapters typically arrange for the experts to provide instruction although with chapter approval education from other sources can count.

While a lot of the activities occur from spring through fall, Phyllis says winter opportunities for volunteering are available.

“One year my husband and I skied into a fish rearing site for The Henry’s Fork Foundation to count, measure and identify the species of smolt before releasing them,” shares King. “And there are docent opportunities in the winter at Harriman State Park as well for IMN members.”

King’s interest in volunteer efforts stems from wanting to be involved in her community. And her experience with INM is due to her love of the outdoors.

“My husband and I are very interested in wildlife issues, conservation, and the environment, so working as an Idaho Master Naturalist and partnering with several nonprofits and IDFG is something we really enjoy.”

King hopes folks interested in learning more about the IMN program will join her chapter August 9th in honor of their 10th anniversary. An open house will be held at Harriman State Park at the Pavilion, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Fran van Manen, supervisory research biologist of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team will be the guest speaker at 7:30 p.m. at the Boy’s House.

It’s a perfect opportunity to meet people just like Phyllis King who love the outdoors and want to help keep Idaho’s wildlife healthy.

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