Become a Citizen Scientist

Volunteer this Spring

Sarah Cairoli

Almost half of the 2,500 square miles that make up Gallatin County are owned by the public. That’s right—they belong to you and me and everybody. They are all ours! And, that means we should be concerned with their care. Sure, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service are technically on the hook for the management of most of these lands, but a little tender, loving care from those of us who use and love these wild places goes a long way.

As the mountains begin to thaw and the rivers fill with runoff, several groups in Bozeman start searching for citizen scientists—concerned individuals willing to donate a bit of their time and elbow grease to conservation projects around the county.

Sacajawea Audobon Society
Anyone who says volunteering is for the birds just might be right. The Sacajawea Audobon Society is one of the fastest growing conservation organizations in Bozeman; eighty new members joined in the second half of 2013, and there are usually more than 100 people at its regular meetings. According to the president of the organization, Loreene Reid, the Sacajawea Audobon Society is “totally volunteer. We have no paid staff, and all of our funding goes directly to our projects.”

The list of projects this group plans to tackle during the summer of 2014 is longer than the wingspan of a bald eagle (which can reach seven feet!) Volunteers are essential to carrying out the Sacajawea Audobon Society’s mission of researching and monitoring local bird populations while working to preserve and maintain bird habitat.

Volunteers have been monitoring bluebird populations along local trails since the 1960s. The organization is looking for more volunteers to build and monitor kestrel boxes in Gallatin County as well as count Brewer’s sparrows in the Madison Valley. The Sacajawea Audobon Society is also looking for volunteers to staff informative exhibits at its annual bird festival in June. In August, the group partners with local garden clubs to remove Burdock, an invasive species of plant that ensnares songbirds. Hardy volunteer citizen scientists are needed to hike to the Bridger Ridge to count migrating raptors every Fall.

The biggest event and fundraiser for this group is the Bird-a-thon, which begins on Mother’s Day and continues until the last week in June. Volunteer teams commit to spending a 24-hour period of their choosing counting as many bird species as they can. Teams pay a $50 registration fee and invite friends to donate money for every bird species they count. One team counted a record 158 species in just one day during 2013. The Bird-a-thon concludes with a celebration at the Gallatin Regional Park, and prizes are awarded to teams for everything from having the highest bird count to having the lowest carbon footprint while birding. “Our big focus is really just to get people out birding,” Reid said.

For more information about the Sacajawea Audobon Society’s work and volunteer opportunities, visit its website

Montana Conservation Corps
Every summer, the Montana Conservation Corps seeks young people, ages 15 – 17, to volunteer for its intensive outdoor programs. Students have the opportunity to participate in several different conservation and community service programs, often while camping with peers and leaders in the very places they are working. Kids can help rebuild fencing and weatherize homes, or hit the trail to take on habitat enhancement and watershed restoration projects. MCC boasts that its volunteers have planted more than a million trees and built more than 12,000 miles of trail, among other things.

To volunteer for one of Montana Conservation Corps’ programs, see the organization’s website

Greater Gallatin Watershed Council
A random poll of Montana residents recently conducted by Montanans for Healthy Rivers found that a whopping 85 percent of the state’s inhabitants thought healthy rivers were essential to a healthy economy. Tourism is a big business in Montana and many visitors come to the state to fish its blue-ribbon trout streams. The University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research has found that nonresident travelers spend a significant amount of money on fishing and hunting licenses, outfitter and guide services, campground space, and park entrance fees. While tourists are enjoying Montana’s natural resources, they are also eating, shopping, and giving the local economy a major boost.

The Greater Gallatin Watershed Council is actively collecting information about the streams and rivers in the Gallatin Watershed, an area that includes the Gallatin and East Gallatin Rivers, as well as Bozeman and several other towns in Gallatin County. They use this information to inspire productive conversations about balanced use of our water resources, so that recreationists, agriculturalists, and tourists can share and enjoy local waterways.

This group is looking for volunteers to join its Stream Teams, groups that study local streams and provide the information they collect to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality; this information is being used to develop a water quality restoration plan and to maintain a long-term database of local water quality.     Volunteers do not need prior scientific experience because the GGWC will hold a mandatory training session on Saturday, June 21 for anyone who is interested. Volunteers will learn how to take water samples for testing, measure water pH and water discharge, and collect algae and insects for further study.

“The Stream Teams are where we need long-term, ongoing help,” explained program coordinator Sierra Harris. Teams go out once a month during the summer to study four local streams—Mandeville Creek, which runs through MSU’s campus and near Bozeman High School; Bozeman Creek, which runs through town; Matthew Bird Creek, which runs along the Gallagator Trail; and the East Gallatin River. Sampling along the East Gallatin is especially important this summer, as the information collected will be used to influence restoration work on what will become Story Mill Park.

GGWC will have an informative meeting in May for anyone interested in volunteering with the organization. “We always need help with data entry,” Harris added. The group is also looking for people interested in working at its booth at the Watershed Festival, held at the Fish Technology Center on June 7.
To learn more about the Greater Gallatin Watershed Council and how you can get your feet wet as a volunteer, visit the group’s website

Gallatin Valley Land Trust
Gallatin Valley Land Trust focuses on conserving local pieces of public land by working with private landowners and other groups. Perhaps one of this group’s biggest accomplishments has been to help expand the Main Street to the Mountains trail system to more than 67 miles. Like many conservation organizations, this group depends upon a volunteer workforce. GVLT is looking for volunteers to help with everything from trail maintenance to office work. For more information about volunteering with Gallatin Valley Land Trust

The four organizations mentioned here are just a small sample of the groups that need volunteer help in our area. Working with conservation groups is a great way to get outside, meet some like-minded friends, and help preserve our natural resources for the generations that will follow. If you missed the Bozeman Sustainability Fair in Bogart Park at the end of April, a quick internet search will lead you to several local groups that would love your help.  

This was made by

Sarah Cairoli

Sarah Cairoli is a local writer, tutor, and mother who has been enjoying all Bozeman has to offer for the past decade. She can be reached at (at) hotmail [d0t] com,)

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