Frances Clark stopped briefly on the National elk Refuge one summer day to count a pronghorn herd as part of her role as a volunteer for Nature Mapping Jackson Hole. As she observed the animals, a coyote approached and put the pronghorn on alert. A female pronghorn approached the coyote and then ran, stopping to look behind it before running a bit more. The rest of the herd mimicked its movement, leading the coyote away from a fragile fawn stashed in the tall grasses. While an adult pronghorn could easily outrun a coyote, a fawn could be a quick meal.
Clark regularly witnesses events like this through her work with Nature Mapping Jackson Hole. She also sees elusive animals like the great gray owl, sharp-tailed grouse, and nesting hawks. It is her love for wildlife that led her to help coordinate the program’s volunteers.
Clark spent most of her career in botany conservation and education in the Boston area. In 2011, Clark and her husband chose to take a year off to live in Jackson Hole and, like many others, chose to stay.
In Jackson, she saw an advertisement about Nature Mapping in the local newspaper and it struck a chord with her. The citizen scientist program is designed to encourage locals to record wildlife sightings and submit data about the animals they see. After local conservationist Meg Raynes passed away in 2008, her husband, Bert Raynes, and fellow conservationists developed the program to honor her love of wildlife, conservation, and volunteerism.
Volunteer Nature Mappers take a two-hour course to learn how to identify animals and submit data. Then, whenever the Nature Mapper spots an animal, whether hiking, biking, driving or even looking out a window at home, they take note of what they witness on a smartphone app. This information is then carefully vetted by a science advisory committee and entered into Wyoming’s wildlife database.
“The nice part about it is you can do it wherever, and how much or how little you can,” Clark says. “It all adds up over time. We have several years of solid data.”
The program has trained 377 local citizen scientists to date. This data is used by organizations like the Wyoming Department of Transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Teton Conservation District for various projects that could impact local wildlife.
A program of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, Nature Mapping Jackson Hole has now expanded beyond casual wildlife sightings. The organization holds events like Moose Day, where volunteers gather to count moose, and programs like the Mountain Bluebird Nest Box Project, where volunteers monitor a bluebird nest once a week.
Besides the important scientific data collected, Nature Mapping Jackson Hole brings together a community that loves wildlife.
“So many of us enjoy seeing and observing wildlife,” Clark says. “This is a way we can give back to the critters.”