BioBlitzes and the State of Our Habitats

November 17, 2022, Department, by Michele White

1222 conservation 410

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Four years ago, NRPA launched its first-ever Parks for Pollinators BioBlitz with support from The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation to help agencies leverage an easy-to-use community science program that helps connect people to nature and learn about their environment — especially the importance of pollinators and native habitat — while collecting valuable data for parks regarding their open spaces.

A BioBlitz is an event where community scientists observe and document flora and fauna in an area to capture a snapshot of a place’s biodiversity. This data helps scientists and others to understand what species are in a given area. This can be done over the course of a few hours or throughout a longer period, such as weeks or months.

However, BioBlitzes also are much more than that. They’re a great community engagement activity to get people outside and into parks and open spaces to explore and connect, while helping agencies collect data that they might not know they need or don’t have the capacity to collect themselves, all the while building the bond between community, park professionals and nature.

The Importance of Data

Currently, a little more than 30 percent of park agencies routinely conduct habitat or species inventories to understand what lives within their parks, as well as how healthy their habitats are. Most agencies are interested in collecting this information but lack the staffing or resources to do so. This data is helpful to understand the health of ecosystems and identify any emerging or current threats that need to be addressed, like invasive species or other factors that can impact the management of healthy parks and biodiversity.

Also, only 44 percent of park agencies are protecting species in need of conservation. Having BioBlitz data can help agencies plan and manage their open spaces to ensure healthy plant communities, know what species to care for and support overall biodiversity.

Creating Park Advocates

BioBlitz events can educate the public and grow advocates for pollinators, native spaces and nature, while also sourcing important data that parks can use to create habitat inventories and protect species in need of conservation. Community members’ efforts can provide what staff lack the capacity to do, all the while fostering a connection to nature. And, through this engagement, the public can learn the importance of pollinators, native habitat and biodiversity, how they can be better stewards in their community and at home.

Hosting a BioBlitz Campaign

Through the four years we have hosted this program, NRPA has engaged 188 agencies from across the country — many coming back year after year to participate. As part of this effort, more than 10,000 community scientists have contributed to the species catalog, nearly 20,000 species have been identified, nearly 83,000 observations have been made by community scientists, and nearly 8,000 experts or nature enthusiasts have helped to identify species for participants. What’s more, communities across the country have leveraged the campaign to build awareness of the importance of pollinators and native habitat through varied communication channels.

Throughout the four years, on average, 75 percent of agencies engaged each year had never held a BioBlitz. But year after year, agencies came back to host again alongside new agencies, growing our impact. Many joined us during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic since it was an easy program to run virtually, in nature and self-paced. Others have leveraged it as a community engagement activity during a park planning process. Many implemented it during events or festivals, while others have used it to highlight pollinator trails or networks in their communities as destinations.

BioBlitz in Action

The City of Columbus, Ohio, grew from hosting its first BioBlitz during our inaugural year to now hosting a volunteer monitoring program using iNaturalist to assess all its native habitats. This helps the city’s native seed collection program and ensures its habitats are healthy, expanding and successful.

In Dallas, its urban biologist uses BioBlitzes to assess what biodiversity is in its parks, which helps identify unique plant communities or habitat in need of restoration. Additionally, the park and recreation agency’s programming staff hosted a Pokémon-themed BioBlitz competition with each of the community centers.

The City of Peoria, Arizona, joined us for its first-ever BioBlitz a few years ago and its park and recreation agency now hosts several events per year to assess its habitat, while also expanding its community science programs to collect information on litter and address the causes, ensuring the city’s ecosystem is healthy. This helps create a powerful team of community scientists who are having positive impacts on their community’s environment and resiliency.

During its Parks for Pollinator BioBlitz program, the City of Fort Worth (Texas) Parks and Recreation Department set aside an area in one of its parks for reduced mow. Staff monitored the park with iNaturalist, met with the neighborhood to explain the program, and also shared the opportunity with their community more broadly. Because of the success of this event, the department is using its prize money from 2021 to help remove non-native and invasive grasses in the park through a prescribed burn plan. The agency hopes to burn the site in early 2023 to prepare the soil for planting a native seed mix in spring 2023.

The City of Fort Worth also has been able to use the Parks for Pollinators BioBlitz program as an impetus to extend reduced mow areas and create natural areas in some of its parks. The agency has established stream buffers in 10 of its parks and staff are monitoring the progress of the buffers through photo points, iNaturalist and Stream Team water quality monitoring.

Through its work to protect pollinators, agency staff are creating long-term actions that will lay the foundation to improve pollinator habitat and visitor experience through additional natural resource management and reduced mowing.

These case studies serve as examples that many agencies can replicate. To help agencies explore possibilities to advance pollinator protection and sustainability practices, NRPA is creating a resource for park professionals to assess their agency and parks for opportunities, build internal and cross-cutting teams to advance mutual goals aligned with this work, and develop resources, policies and tools to help along the way. It will be available in the winter of 2023, and we are looking forward to helping you and your agency.

Michele White is Senior Program Manager of Conservation at NRPA.