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Bees & Bluebirds & Frogs, Oh My! - Severson Dells Offers Community Science Program

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Connie Kuntz
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Calling all nature lovers in northern Illinois! Severson Dells Nature Center wants you to participate in a community science program. Andrea Wallace Noble is an educator and naturalist with Severson Dells. She calls the program "a broad global idea" and a says it's a partnership between the public and professionals to "observe the world around us."

Included in that "world" are bats, bluebirds, bumble bees, frogs and plants that live in Winnebago County's forest preserve system.  

Noble said, "We're looking for volunteers who love nature, want to learn more and make a difference."

Though Severson Dells runs the program, there are 44 forest preserves in the Winnebago County Forest Preserve system and Noble says volunteers choose which forest preserve -- or preserves -- they want to utlize.

"A monitor could choose to monitor at all of the forest preserves," Noble said. "Some of them even pick one that's close to their home -- or their favorite that they really want to focus on." 

Volunteers are needed to help collect data, record observations and inform resource management and public education programs. 

"There is still so much we don't know about wildlife in Winnebago County," said Noble. "Community scientists contribute valuable data that helps the forest preserves of Winnebago County restore the land, understand the impact of climate change, apply for grant funding and other things as well," she said.

She said the discovery of the rusty-patched bumble bee in Winnebago is a stellar example of the impact of community science in Winnebago County.

"This critically endangered pollinator was the first insect ever to be added to the endangered species list," she said.

The monitoring of the rusty-patched bumble bee led to Winnebago County Forest Preserves acquiring a $100,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for habitat restoration.

"And that, in turn, changed the way that we restored our land and made a big impact on our natural communities."

If you aren't sure your schedule will allow you to participate, Noble said there are daytime and nighttime projects.

An example of a daytime project is Project Budburst which involves observing life phases of plants like their leaf fall and flower bloom. Noble said it, "helps us understand and anticipate the impact of climate change in our natural communities."

And SDNC is offering a couple nighttime programs.

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Credit Connie Kuntz
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"These are our frog and bat programs," said Noble. "I really like these because you get special access to our preserves and experience things that most people wouldn't get to like owls calling, fog on the prairie and getting the preserve all to yourself."

There is no age minimum or limit. 

"We've had everyone from eight-year-old girl scouts to 80-year-olds participate in this program," she said. "So it's truly for everyone."

Noble said they're looking for people of any ability who love to learn and be outside. You don't need any specific tools, skills or background.

"The time commitment and training required for each project varies," she said. "So we have a match for everyone." 

Noble said the community science program is an excellent opportunity for people interested in a career in the environmental sciences.

"Some of our community scientists have gone on to serve as AmeriCorps for forest preserves of Winnebago County or use it on their college applications or resumes for related job applications."

If you are interested in learning more, Noble says the public is invited to a free virutual information session on Saturday, Feb. 13 from 2-3 p.m. 

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