British Columbia is blanketed in vast stretches of mountains and forests, with areas of grasslands, subarctic tundra, and even pockets of Mediterranean or semi-arid climates. The Province boasts this impressive array of diverse ecosystems, which in turn host the greatest biodiversity in North America.
In 2018 Teck partnered with the BC Parks Foundation to harness the enthusiasm of residents and visitors for B.C.’s natural beauty in helping catalogue the biodiversity of the province’s outdoor spaces. Little information exists on biodiversity within B.C.’s parks, in part because of the size of the system and the costs of collecting this data. The BC Parks Foundation began the BC Parks iNaturalist project with Teck’s support, and in partnership with BC Parks and researchers from SFU and UVIC. The project aimed to take on the challenge of cataloguing the variety of plants and animals that call B.C. home.
The pilot utilized iNaturalist, a mobile app which allowed park visitors to collect observations using mobile phones or cameras. They could then upload their observations to the app or website. Meanwhile, the BC Parks Foundation worked with researchers at UBC to create WildCAM – a network of remote wildlife research cameras that provided data to supplement iNaturalist observations. The ambitious goal of this first step was to collect 10,000 observations in the first year.
By the end of the year the iNaturalist project recorded an impressive showing with more than 100,000 observations recorded by over 2,000 citizen scientists. Their observations came from over 500 parks across the province.
“This pilot has been a fantastic adventure that has produced results far beyond what we imagined,” said Dr. Andrew Day, CEO of BC Parks Foundation “It shows that people care about and are interested in the life around us, and what is possible when you make it easy and meaningful for them to act.”
Beyond the numbers, this project revealed some amazing findings about wildlife in B.C. A sampling of these include:
The results of wildlife sightings were shared with the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. These were used to reassess the status of wildlife in Canada. Some species thought to be rare were seen in greater numbers, or vice versa.
Using the collected observations, scientists tracked the timing of plant flowerings and how this coordinated with climate and weather.
Scientists learned new things about species that were thought to be well-studied. Moose were observed at elevations higher than previously thought to be natural. Evidence of cougars dining on harbour seals was found further inland than previously observed.
“The treasure trove of data will help inform us about things like which species are declining, which are surviving, and what is happening with invasive species,” says Day. “That knowledge, along with other results we can’t even yet predict, will help improve protection, restoration, and management of BC’s incredible natural heritage.”
The amazing participation in the BC Parks iNaturalist Project has spurred on even more ambitious ideas for the project’s future. The BC Parks Foundation has partnered with local universities and non-profits to explore how the project’s observations can help tackle big problems like forecasting climate change impacts or studying the effect of COVID-19 on our natural environments.
Every time you go outside you can do your part to share the beauty of British Columbia and help our scientists and communities learn more about the world around us. Teck and BC Parks Foundation invite you to participate in the iNaturalist project; for more information, visit BC Parks Foundation.