Help Mother Nature Through Free Citizen Projects

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Photo by Chris Helzer, courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

Today’s headlines make for frightening times, from hurricanes to environmental disasters. Sometimes, it seems that we have little control over our world, but I believe we can make a positive difference right in our own backyards through citizen projects. Here are two hands-on efforts that caught my eye because they work to make the world a better place through engaging grassroots efforts that teach children to care about nature. Not only do these projects do good, but ultimately, they empower us. 

Photo courtesy of North Carolina's Candid Critters research project

North Carolina’s Candid Critters

Did you ever wonder what animals visit your backyard at night? Researchers with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and North Carolina State University are asking state residents for help in the largest ever camera trap survey to uncover the secrets of wildlife in our state.

Anyone living in North Carolina — from the mountains to the sea — can take part in the North Carolina's Candid Critters research project. You can borrow a camera trap from a nearby public library to set on approved public lands or in your own backyard. (If you own your own camera trap, you can use it.) Then wait and see what animals pass in front of the camera. While you’ll learn what wildlife lives near you, you’ll also help scientists learn more about deer reproduction and the distribution of all mammal species across the state. The goal is to have up to 30,000 active sites over the next three years.

“Before we can answer all these questions about mammals, we need to collect massive amounts of data — in this case, camera-trap images — from across all 100 counties in North Carolina,” says project coordinator Arielle Parsons, research associate with the Museum of Natural Sciences’ Biodiversity Research Lab. “We really need the public’s help to accomplish this. The more people that participate, the more we can learn about North Carolina’s critters.” For more information or to sign up, visit

Create Wildlife-Friendly Spaces With Habitat Network

Tired of trying to grow grass in your backyard? Would you like to make your yard a habitat for plants and animals? Habitat Network, a free online citizen-science platform launched Oct. 3, invites people across the country to consider another more natural option. Through the platform started by The Nature Conservancy and Cornell Lab or Ornithology, people can map their outdoor space, share it with others and learn more about supporting nature. The project helps people to create spaces that support birds, pollinators and other wildlife, plus manage water resources, and reduce use of chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers.

Native plants attract more birds. Photo by Shane Marvelli, Habitat Network member.

“Science shows us that small changes in the way properties are managed can make a huge impact towards improving our environment," says Megan Whatton, project manager for Habitat Network at The Nature Conservancy. "Creating and conserving nature within cities, towns and neighborhoods are key to global conservation."

Through the Habitat Network, you can attract a variety of birds and wildlife to your home, school or business, manage rainwater and help protect bees and other pollinators.

Photo by Chris Helzer, courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

The project features a mapping tool that is also a social network, so participants to share information and learn from their neighbors. Over time, the Conservancy and the Lab plan to use the citizen science self-reported information to understand how much habitat exists in cities and towns and how that habitat can benefit wildlife and humans.

Go to to sign up for an account and get started mapping, sharing, and learning about sustainable practices you can implement in residential and school yards, parks and corporate campuses.


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