In search of disturbed lands: a community science approach for landscape level restoration priority setting and planning

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Helen I. Rowe, Dan Gruber, Mary Fastiggi

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Amid a crisis of biodiversity loss and estimates of degraded lands between 1–7B ha, ecological restoration is seen as an important pathway to restore and sustain biodiversity, ecosystem services, and related benefits. However, many managers lack the tools they need to systematically and comprehensively identify disturbed sites to prioritize restoration efforts given limited resources. We developed a novel, inexpensive, low-tech approach for training and engaging citizen scientists to identify areas in need of restoration within a defined area. The mapping process follows four phases: 1) Landscape scans by volunteers using Google Earth Pro (GE) imagery; 2) A second scan of all detected disturbances based on high resolution aerial photography; 3) Compilation of basic information about the degraded sites; 4) Addition of associated plant communities. We detected 67 new sites not previously identified by managers using an estimated 220 volunteer hours and only 20 staff hours. Each site has accompanying information including distance from nearest access point, cause of disturbance, and plant and soils detail. After completion, we conducted independent field visits of 33% of the detected sites and verified disturbance in all cases. We found that the remotely sensed approach provided better perspective to accurately measure the scale and original source of disturbance compared with field visits. The approach can be conducted over a relatively short period of time, using multiple volunteers, and allows managers to undertake landscape level restoration prioritization and planning and, if repeated, it can be used to monitor changes in degradation over time.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

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