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Director's Corner

Dan Ashe served as FWS Director from June 2011 until January 2017. The following is an archive of blogs authored by Director Ashe during that time. This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

Science is All about the Data – and You

FWS Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius (from left), Senator Amy Klobuchar and Dan release monarchs after tagging at an event in Minnesota.
FWS Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius (from left), Senator Amy Klobuchar and Dan release monarchs after tagging at an event in Minnesota. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

When you think of “science,” what comes to mind? People in white lab coats in white rooms, surrounded by beakers and complicated instruments? Geniuses like Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking or Marie Curie in front of blackboards filled with complicated equations?

What if I told you that science is as much about you, and people like you, as it is them? That science is all around you, waiting to be discovered? And that you can play a critical role in increasing our scientific understanding of the world?

It’s true. And yesterday, the White House, in collaboration with the GSA and Wilson Center, launched www.citizenscience.gov to help federal agencies engage and connect millions of Americans in citizen science projects across the nation. I encourage you to visit www.citizenscience.gov to learn about all the incredible ways that the federal government is working to engage the public.

Our world is changing rapidly. So rapidly that any predictions we can make about the future are likely to be incomplete at best, or at worst, wildly inaccurate. Unless we have data. The best scientific minds in the world can only work with the data at hand, and having more available data helps them draw more accurate conclusions.

Data – which can be anything from a temperature reading to the number of birds observed on a pond to the date that your roses start blooming – are the lifeblood of science. And even in the era of Big Data, someone has to collect it.

Why can’t that someone be you, or your family?

All across the world, people just like you are collecting vital data and transmitting it to scientists, vastly increasing our understanding of the physical, chemical and biological processes under way in a wide array of landscapes, watersheds and ecosystems. These citizen scientists have no formal scientific background or special knowledge. What they do have is a passion for the natural world, and the tenacity and dedication to observe and report what they see.

Citizen science projects offer kids a great opportunity to connect with the natural world and understand what’s happening around them – something that’s increasingly difficult in our rapidly urbanizing society.

Young use the e-Bird Trail Tracker at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.
Young use the e-Bird Trail Tracker at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

The possibilities are endless – as is our need for citizen science. Here are just a few examples of how we’re utilizing citizen scientists to gather data across the nation:

  • Monarch butterflies: The monarch butterfly is in trouble, with a wintering population estimated to be fewer than 5 percent of what it was 25 years ago. To halt this decline and begin to restore monarch populations, scientists and land managers desperately need better information about these butterflies throughout their life cycle. You can help, by participating in multiple study efforts that use citizen scientists to capture, tag, release and observe monarchs during their fall and spring migrations between breeding grounds in the United States and Canada and wintering grounds in Mexico. Citizen scientists also help monitor larval populations and disease, as well as habitat distribution and abundance along migration routes and on breeding grounds.
  • Migratory Birds: Dozens of birding initiatives use citizen scientists to collect and report observations of migratory birds at various times of the year. For example, the Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System has implemented an eBird Trail Tracker – a real–time, online system to gather information and track sightings of birds at more than a dozen refuges nationwide. The eBird trackers enable visitors to learn about species they might see and report their own observations. Observations recorded at eBird trackers on refuges and other locations become part of eBird, an online checklist that scientists and birders with Internet access can use to review bird observation information from specific locations across North America. The eBird Trail Trackers website also includes photos, audio, video and life history information for the birds.
  • Mayflies: All along the Mississippi River, the emergence of mayflies in the spring is a critical event for hundreds of species of migratory birds, fish and other aquatic species that utilize them as a food source. The mayfly presence in the spring and summer is also an indicator of healthy waters – but when they swarm in huge numbers they can also be a safety hazard for motorists. The Service and the U.S. Geological Survey are engaging citizens across the Mississippi watershed interested in tracking the timing of these seasonal events. Information gathered through the Mayfly Watch, will help scientists assess water conditions and seasonal variances along the Mississippi, while alerting authorities to potentially hazardous driving conditions.

These are just a few of the dozens of opportunities to get engaged! You can help monitor shorebird migrations along the Delaware and New Jersey coasts; observe and report brown pelicans in California; listen for the distinct call of the woodcock across New England and the Northeast; or participate in many more great projects.

I encourage you to visit www.citizenscience.gov to learn about all the ways that the Federal Government is working to engage the public in citizen science. These efforts are incredibly rewarding for families and children, and enable millions of Americans to make a real contribution to our understanding of the world. No lab coats needed!


What big corporation are you protecting by killing wolves. How much money did Daniel Ashe get to do the killing? Shame on you
# Posted By Donna cathcart | 4/24/16 12:13 PM

I want to urge Director Ashe to halt the delisting of Yellowstone's Grizzlies as an endangered species. They were brought back from the brink, but it is still too early to remove this protection from them. I don't believe the three western states which would be given jurisdiction have the same sensitivities toward, and interest in protecting, the Grizzlies as does the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. The fact that they want okay trophy hunting of these animals is one sign of that. Please, Director Ashe, extend the protection period for these vital and magnificent creatures. Thank you for your attention.
# Posted By Sheila Trainor | 5/4/16 12:04 AM

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