Wanted: Citizen Scientists to Walk and Observe in the Wissahickon

Ruffian Tittmann, Executive Director, Friends of the Wissahickon

Interested in Participating in Citizen Science for Ecological Land Management?

The first data collection zone is the Valley Green area during the winter of 2020-2021. FOW’s Habitat Committee has compiled a list of seasonal flora, fauna and fungi based on their ease of identification and prevalence at that time.

How can you help FOW monitor the Wissahickon’s habitat?

Download the iNaturalist app and explore Valley Green with a purpose this winter. Be sure to stay on the trail and follow all trail designations and park rules.

Using iNaturalist, try to identify the following:

  • Trees, tree shapes, tree bark, leaves and buds
  • Evergreens: pine, hemlock, spruce, holly and fern
  • Late-falling nuts or fruit on shrubs
  • Lichen on rocks, trees and fallen logs
  • In March: Early spring sprouts of anything green

There’s a lot of life in Wissahickon Valley Park — not just the throngs of people who visit the park every day, but the hundreds of plant and animal species that call it home. Since 2018, one of FOW’s top priorities has been to foster ecologically diverse and functional habitats in the Wissahickon. To further this goal, we worked with researchers from Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Sciences to develop an Ecological Land Management plan, which will shape how we take care of the park for years to come.

Completed last spring, the plan gave us important knowledge about the Wissahickon’s rich biodiversity. The ELM data enabled us to employ best management practices based on current conditions, including invasive pests and impacts of climate change, to inform our future stewardship priorities. As Emily Daeschler, chair of FOW’s Habitat Committee, explained, “When we know what lives where, we can be intentional in where we place our restoration projects for the biggest effects on critical species.”

An important innovation in the ELM plan was to break up the park’s 1,800 acres into 23 hydrologic management units, or HMUs. Each unit identifies key plant and animal species as indicators of its overall ecosystem health and sets guidelines for preferred land management techniques in that area. The ELM also designated areas of priority usage, so that humans and wildlife each have spaces to themselves in the categories of preservation, restoration and access.

We expect these area designations to shift somewhat, based on observed trends, new habitat restoration project and new data — one of the most important pieces of ELM going forward. While we now have a lot more data on the Wissahickon’s habitats and key indicator species, there are still considerable data gaps in many areas. And as the park’s biodiversity changes from year to year, we need to continue assessing the ELM zones to determine the priority of FOW’s habitat restoration projects. Luckily, there’s an amazing tool to help make this a possibility: citizen science.

You can make the difference

Citizen science is the collection of scientific data by amateur scientists and people like you. Starting this year, FOW will be incorporating real-time seasonal data on indicator species and plants in several HMUs, and we’re encouraging all park visitors to assist with data collection.

It’s easy and fun — you can submit observations while you’re out exploring the Wissahickon this winter. With your help, we hope to have a real-time picture of the park, which will help FOW staff and volunteers make scientifically informed stewardship decisions, such as placement of native plantings and stormwater infrastructure. Together we can conserve the Wissahickon’s habitat for years to come!