Tag Archive | Volunteer

Connections Across Volunteer Opportunities: An Interview with Al

The following piece was written for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link

Like many of our state’s residents, Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera host, Al from Marinette County, wears many hats when it comes to his involvement in Wisconsin wildlife. “I’ve been interested in wildlife since childhood, and I’ve been deer hunting for 50 years.” Al shared in an interview with the Snapshot Wisconsin staff, “[Volunteering with Wisconsin DNR] is one way for me to give back a little something, by being on committees or participating in research projects.” Al’s background meant that he was no stranger to trail cameras when he enrolled in the project, which holds true for many of Snapshot Wisconsin’s volunteers.

Back when the Snapshot Wisconsin project was only enrolling volunteers in a subset of counties, Al signed on to the waitlist for Marinette County and received one of the very first cameras deployed in northeastern Wisconsin. Al joked that if you can think of a species, it has passed in front of his trail camera. His site is frequented by many deer and bear but also joined by a larger variety including bobcats, skunks, porcupines, and more. In fact, one of his favorite memories involved spotting a sow and her two cubs as he approached his camera for a routine check.

In addition to monitoring a trail camera in Marinette County, Al has served on his local County Deer Advisory Council since the program’s inception in 2014, where he is currently the hunt/conservation club representative. Al’s history as a co-chair for the Northeastern Wisconsin Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation made him a perfect selection for this seat. In the same year that Al joined the Marinette County CDAC, he also decided to enroll his 400 acres of land in the Deer Management Assistance Program.

Just as wildlife serves as a connection between Wisconsin residents, Al is able to see the connection between the different programs that he volunteers his time for. Monitoring both a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera and being a member of his local CDAC means that his data is making a full circle back to him, especially regarding fawn-to-doe ratios. Al shared, “Our CDAC pays close attention to all the deer metrics and is especially interested in fawn-to-doe ratios.”

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Some of Al’s favorite deer images captured on his Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

Two Gray Fox Captured on Camera

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

The 29th of February is a rare and special occasion. Another rare and special occasion is capturing a stellar photo of the sly, nocturnal gray fox on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

Look closely to catch not just one, but two gray fox captured on camera by an Outagamie County volunteer!

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Did you know you can view and classify photos collected from Snapshot Wisconsin cameras across the state at www.SnapshotWisconsin.org?

Maps of the Zooniverse

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Coordinator AnnaKathryn Kruger for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link

The opportunity to classify photos of wildlife from across Wisconsin draws a diverse array of individuals to our Zooniverse page. Some volunteers are trail camera hosts themselves and enjoy classifying photos from other camera sites. Zooniverse also offers this opportunity to those who are unable to host a camera but still wish to participate in the project.

The maps here were created using Google Analytics data, which can anonymously record information about users who access a webpage, such as their nearest city. This data shows us that Snapshot Wisconsin reaches an audience far beyond Wisconsin, and even beyond the United States! In total, volunteers from 696 cities across 41 countries have interacted with the Snapshot Wisconsin Zooniverse page since 2016. 190 of those cities are in Wisconsin.

Each dot represents just one city, regardless of the number of individuals who accessed the site in that location. For example, the dot for the city of Madison could represent thousands of users. Zooming in on Wisconsin, we see that many dots are centered around the most populous areas, such as Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Chicago. This pattern can be attributed to the fact that these areas also host the highest concentration of suburbs.

Regardless of the volunteer’s location, each classification we receive is important to the success of Snapshot Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Map

World Map

Evaluating Project Participation Through Zooniverse

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Coordinator AnnaKathryn Kruger for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link

One of the easiest ways to participate in Snapshot Wisconsin is by classifying photos through a website called Zooniverse. Zooniverse is a crowdsourcing service that is accessible to anyone, anywhere, and the site has hosted Snapshot Wisconsin since 2016. Snapshot Wisconsin’s most prolific Zooniverse volunteer has contributed over 65,000 classifications to the project’s dataset. To date, 1.9 million trail camera photos have been processed through Zooniverse, and more than 7,500 different individuals have registered to participate.

Zooniverse volunteers play a pivotal role in Snapshot Wisconsin. Analyzing volunteer participation gives staff a better idea of how to effectively engage volunteers and can also offer researchers a look at how patterns in participation relate to the overall quality of the data acquired from the platform.

In the interest of exploring a quantitative assessment of volunteer participation in Snapshot Wisconsin through Zooniverse, researchers conducted a Latent Profile Analysis (LPA) of our volunteers. LPA can be used to organize a given sample size of people into groups based on observable variables, such as user activity over time. Through this, researchers were able to ascertain how many different groups of people exist in the sample, which individuals belong to which group, and what characteristics are unique to each group. This allowed researchers to hone in on specific patterns in user engagement.

Researchers identified measurable variables unique to each volunteer and their activity on Zooniverse between November 2017 and February 2019. These included the number of days each volunteer was active, time elapsed between active days, and the amount of time volunteers spent on the site on active days. From this, researchers parsed volunteers into three profiles: temporary, intermittent and persistent.

Volunteer Groups

Profiles of Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer participation on Zooniverse

Temporary volunteers are those who exhibited rigorous participation, but only for a short period of time. Intermittent are those characterized by the significant amount of time elapsed between a relatively small number of active days. Persistent are those who demonstrated high levels of activity across the entire period examined.

Measures of accuracy specific to each group revealed that temporary volunteers demonstrate lower accuracy in their classifications compared to intermittent volunteers. Though intermittent volunteers tended to allow more time to go by between active days, the consistent practice ultimately made their classifications more accurate.

In this instance, we may turn to an old adage: practice makes perfect. It comes as no surprise that practice and accuracy are correlated, and that volunteers become better at classifying photos with more time spent doing so. In the graphic on the right, all four photos are of porcupines, though they are of varying degrees of difficulty when it comes to classification. Though classifying photos like these may be tricky at first, over time certain characteristics begin to stand out more readily – a porcupine may be identified by their lumbering gait, or the way that their quills appear from different angles and in different light. The more frequently one sees these traits, the easier they become to identify. Volunteers who participate at any level, whether temporary, intermittent, or persistent, are of great value to the project, and the more time spent on Zooniverse, the more likely that the classifications assigned to each photo are accurate.

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Citizen science is an integral part of the Snapshot Wisconsin project, and is in fact core to its mission, which is to rally the knowledge and resources of citizens across Wisconsin and throughout the world to build a comprehensive and highly accurate portrait of Wisconsin wildlife. No two Zooniverse volunteers are quite the same, and each individual informs our understanding of how citizen science can be utilized effectively in research. No matter how one chooses to participate, participation alone brings us closer to our goal.

Happy Holidays

We hope you take some time to chill with those who are deer to you. Warm wishes from all of us at the Snapshot Wisconsin team!

Photo submitted by Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer Chris Yahnke and his students at UW – Stevens Point.

Exploring the Plant Side of Citizen Science

In the state of Wisconsin, we are lucky to have so many people who take interest in our natural resources. From the Snapshot Wisconsin project here at the Department of Natural Resources, to university professors conducting environmental research, to individual Wisconsinites, there’s no shortage of people who care.

Before I started working with the Snapshot Wisconsin team, I was fortunate enough to participate in another research project. The goal of the project was to look more closely at the impact that white-tailed deer have on Wisconsin forests when they browse on (or “eat”) sapling trees. My job was to use the Twig-Age method to help collect data across several forest patches in Southern Wisconsin, as well as to build a website to share this new method of data collection with other volunteers who wanted to participate in the research. 

A maple sapling that has been browsed by a deer.

The Twig-Age method involves looking at a tree sapling, measuring its height, and counting the terminal bud scale scars along two of its branches. Terminal bud scale scars are what’s left behind on the twig when a bud falls off naturally during the growing process. Picture marking a child’s height on the wall each year. The more bud scale scars a twig has, the longer a twig has been able to grow without being browsed by a deer. We took hundreds of data points in order to paint a picture of what sort of browsing impacts deer were having on these forests.

One year of growth pointed out on the twig of a Red Maple sapling.

While I was doing this field work, I found myself surprised by how many different species of trees we have in our forests. Usually when I walk through the woods, I don’t take the time to notice all the different plants around me. I notice the birds and the squirrels, but the plants have always been more of a beautiful backdrop. This research project gave me a stronger appreciation for the diverse vegetation that we have in our forests. I had time to get down at eye-level with these saplings and really look at them. It was like playing the part of a historian by recording the age of their twigs and whether or not a deer had eaten from them before. Each data point collected was a personal interview with a tiny tree.

By the end of the summer we created Our Wisconsin Understory, a citizen science project for monitoring deer impacts. The goal is to collect as much data as possible and to hopefully expand data points across the state. Anyone interested in learning more about the Twig-Age method and collecting data for the project can do so at the Our Wisconsin Understory website.

How It Feels to Discover a Rare Species on Camera

On Friday, April 12th, Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer John came across something extraordinary. After making routine checks of his elk cameras in Black River Falls, he headed home to upload his photos.  During the standard process of review and classification, one photo in particular stood out amongst the sea of deer and turkeys. John recognized it immediately. “That’s a big white crane with a red head!” he exclaimed. “Woah, this is a whooping crane!”

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John knew how rare they are, having only seen them at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo. That was 30 years ago, when his kids were young. John wanted to verify his discovery before sharing his excitement with the Snapshot team. “I went to my smartphone to verify that I was seeing the correct animal, and I said, ‘Yup, that’s a whooping crane!’” Sure enough, not only had John captured a rare species, but he had photographed the first whooping crane in the history of Snapshot Wisconsin.

He couldn’t believe how spectacular the image was. “It was a beautiful photo! It was at 8 in the morning, and it must have just landed. It had its wings up – it looked like it was dancing in front of the camera! I thought wow, what a perfect picture.”

John has been involved in the project for one and a half years, and currently maintains five cameras in the Black River Falls elk reintroduction area.  John’s passion for the outdoors and interest in Wisconsin elk motivated him to become a Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer after retirement. “I like to get out into new locations and explore. It’s kind of a spiritual experience for me to be in the outdoors.” He also appreciates the opportunity to stay active. “I get a little exercise. I don’t like to be on a treadmill, I would rather be walking in the woods and seeing things. [Snapshot Wisconsin] is a good fit for me.”

When asked about his favorite part of participating in Snapshot Wisconsin, John shared that he enjoys being in the woods, seeing the wildlife and exploring new areas. He also welcomes the challenge of finding his camera sites. “Navigation is challenging,” he explained, “finding a camera based on a certain grid coordinate is kind of exciting.”

Capturing the memorable photo of the whooping crane has only added to John’s experience as a volunteer. “I’m glad I got an animal that was interesting. I have gotten bear, wolves, and bobcats [and] of course a lot of deer and turkey. But the whooping crane was kind of the icing on the cake. I am looking forward to getting other interesting animals.”

John also recognizes how this whooping crane sighting is significant in terms of the conservation of this endangered species. When asked what it means to him to be a part of this crane’s story, John said, “It’s kind of interesting. I think my job is kind of small but sometimes it ends up being a big production. It shows how small the world is and how everybody can make a difference no matter what they do.”

2019 Spring Fawn Survey

The goal of the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study is to comprehensively examine factors that could impact deer survival and deer population growth in southern Wisconsin. Those include Chronic Wasting Disease, predation, habitat suitability and hunter harvest. In late May and early June, members of the Snapshot Wisconsin team had the opportunity to help out with the project’s spring fawn search. Snapshot staff joined the CWD team and volunteers from across the state to search for fawns in the study areas near Dodgeville.

Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study Areas

Study areas to the east and west of Dodgeville, WI.

On each day of the 3-week survey, DNR employees and volunteers assembled into a line spread fingertip to fingertip to sweep across the survey area. It takes a keen eye and diligent searching to spot a fawn, as newborn fawns can be as small as a football. When less than 5 days old, fawns stay bedded down and in hiding amongst tall grass and brush. Does often leave their fawns for hours at a time to give the fawn a better chance of survival.

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When a staff member or volunteer came upon a fawn, they rested their hands on the fawn’s back to gently keep the fawn from getting up. A children’s sock was then placed over the fawn’s eyes to keep it calm as DNR employees promptly fitted the fawn with ear tags and a radio collar. These collars are made of elastic material with pleats sewn into them that pop, expand, and eventually fall off as the fawn grows – usually within 18 months. Important information such as the fawn’s sex, weight, and rear leg length was recorded before carefully placing the fawn back where it was bedded down.

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The Snapshot Wisconsin team learned a lot about fawns, CWD, and how the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study gathers valuable data about white-tailed deer. This unique fieldwork opportunity also gave our team an up-close look at the wildlife we usually see in trail camera images!

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For more information, please visit the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study’s webpage.

Check out these other Snapshot Wisconsin blogs related to the project:
1) Southwest Deer and Predator Study
2) In the Field with the Southwest CWD, Deer and Predator Study

Elk Monitoring Opportunity

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

Are you curious to see what Wisconsin elk are up to? Get an up-close look at the elk herds in the Flambeau River State Forest, Clam Lake or Black River Falls areas by monitoring a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera. Trail cameras provide valuable data for herd management and give volunteers a unique window into Wisconsin’s woods.

No experience necessary, all training and equipment are provided. Volunteers must be able to participate for at least one year and check the camera at least once every three months. Submit a volunteer application today at www.SnapshotWIElkSignup.org.

Top 10 Reasons to Host a Snapshot Wisconsin Trail Camera

Rumor has it that summer is around the corner, which is the perfect time to sign up for a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera! Do you have access to public land or a private property at least 10 acres in size? A computer with internet? The ability to participate for a least a year? If you answered yes to these questions, congrats – you are already qualified! If you are thinking “But why should I apply?”, here are 10 commonly quoted reasons by our volunteers and project staff:

1. It’s free!

We provide all necessary equipment (including a Bushnell camera), training, technical support and replacements at NO cost! No previous experience is required, we are happy to teach you!

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2. Use your trail camera see up close pictures of wildlife.

Feed your curiosity and learn what is on your property and public lands.

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3. Hosting a trail camera is a great excuse to get out into the woods.

And we’ll remind you to check your camera every three months. That way you’ll head outdoors in all seasons and be on track with the program.

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4. Contribute to wildlife monitoring.

Photos collected through Snapshot Wisconsin are turned into important data used for supporting wildlife management decisions at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

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5. Interact with the researchers.

Volunteers interact with the Snapshot Wisconsin research team at various outreach events, both in person and online. We also visit various groups across the state talking about the project and are available for questions on call or email.

6. Be in the know – get regular updates on data collected.

The research team provides regular updates aimed at volunteers – our monthly e-newsletter and blog are chock full of interesting information.

7. Socialize with other volunteers.

Our volunteers meet other citizen science enthusiasts at trainings, outreach and volunteer appreciation events. Discussions at these events can range from how the last hunting season went to secret birding locations, Packer football and so on.

Apart from the events, our Zooniverse forum allows you to interact with more 6500 volunteers from across the globe with the one thing that binds them all – interest in Wisconsin’s charismatic wildlife through the lens of a trail camera.

8. Improve your wildlife identification skills.

We provide a web-interface MySnapshot for volunteers to classify and view their pictures. Our Zooniverse forum is also a way to classify the pictures from across the state.

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 9. Educational outlet for students or nature center visitors.

Hundreds of educators participate in Snapshot Wisconsin. Snapshot Wisconsin is a great avenue to take your class outdoors and to bring the outdoors back into the classroom. Many nature centers also participate in Snapshot Wisconsin and are a great outlet for information on Wisconsin’s wildlife.

10. Provides an opportunity to bridge nature and technology.

Snapshot Wisconsin provides a great opportunity to bridge nature and technology. Trail cameras are non-invasive and providing a wealth of data about the secretive critters of Wisconsin. It’s a great technology for the good, connecting people and nature.

Convinced yet? Signup here: www.SnapshotWISignup.org!
Do you have a few more questions? Contact us at DNRSnapshotWisconsin@Wisconsin.org