The River’s Calendar: Angler Climate Science and Policy Advocacy
A community science network to add new voices and new knowledge to the climate change discourse and promote policy changes
Phenology: “The study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate” - Wikipedia.
Trout Unlimited and the University of Massachusetts are planning the “River’s Calendar” project, a community science program that examines the impacts of climate change on the phenology of our nation’s coldwater riparian areas. Phenology is a critical piece of the climate change puzzle in these riparian systems and the fisheries they support, as shifting natural calendars in response to warming temperatures may cause damaging ripple effects throughout these ecosystems. Trout anglers will record temperature, stream flow, and seasonal aquatic insect, fish and riparian plant observations while fishing. They will use this information to enhance their own understanding of the ecological, recreational and economic value of these areas, and of the magnitude of threats caused by climate and other human-caused land use changes. With this new knowledge, they will reach out to other recreation, conservation, and community organizations to form broad-based alliances to address these problems at local, regional and national levels. The project is infused with a rich array of cutting-edge information technology (IT) that will support: 1) data collection and analysis, 2) informal science education, 3) creative information communication and knowledge sharing, 4) multimedia digital publishing, and 5) formation of social networks to mobilize stakeholders on climate change.
We intend to initiate the River’s Calendar in pilot programs in at least two areas of the country; the Northeast and one other to be determined. TU and the University’s Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) will convene a Science Advisory Board (SAB) to develop guidelines for a scientifically credible phenology monitoring network. The SAB will define a set of phenology-based parameters to monitor. For practical reasons, we will initially focus on aquatic invertebrates, fish and riparian plants and associated phenologic and hydrologic measures (e.g. emergence and flowering dates, stream and air temperature, timing and magnitude of peak and low flows). Anglers will also track associated anthropogenic indicators (e.g., number of viable fishing days per season, angler traffic on streams, observed stream alterations, etc.). We will recruit local experts in each pilot area (scientists from academia, government agencies and environmental firms; knowledgeable guides and anglers) to adapt the general methods to local conditions (e.g. identify locally significant species, targeted monitoring locations, and duration of the monitoring season). WRRC will use these inputs to develop training materials and programs. Anglers will be provided with paper and/or electronic (i.e. for use on smart phones) field guides to hatching insects and flowering plants to help with their field IDs. We will collaborate with local TU chapters to recruit anglers, conduct training, and organize the local monitoring networks.
This monitoring program will allow us to establish a baseline of phenology data for riparian systems, starting now. We intend for this to be a long-term project, but it may take decades to build a record capable of discerning climate-related changes with any degree of confidence. However, there exists a rich trove of information in angling journals, records of fly shops and guides, and in the angling literature. Depending on the river system, these sources may extend the baseline of fishing reports and hatch emergence dates back decades, to a century or more. We have begun an initiative within the TU community to locate these records. From them, we will cull information that supplements the new angler-collected data, to establish a longer phenology timeline. The older information is likely to have minimal quality control. It will of necessity have a lower confidence level than will our “new” data, but should nonetheless help reveal the climate change picture with regard to coldwater fisheries.
Once the data starts coming in, anglers will participate in a series of IT-mediated activities that bring to life the science behind their recreational activities. Anglers will be given a set of IT tools that allow multimedia display and sharing of their field observations. In electronic discussion forums, anglers will review photos, maps, hatch charts and the like, as they swap fishing stories and delve deeper into factors that shape the natural calendars of the rivers they visit. Our science team will participate in these forums, offering expert advice when needed (e.g. with taxonomic IDs) and sprinkling the discussions with occasional comments and questions intended to stimulate curiosity and further inquiry into phenology, ecology and climate change questions associated with the angling experience. These photos, records, questions and discoveries become raw material for informal education/outreach products that can further their own learning process and spread the word to the broader community. For example, WRRC will guide the volunteers in development of virtual river tours and interactive electronic field guides to hatching insects and to seasonal attractions along local rivers. The guides (suitable for use on home computers as well as with mobile devices) will suggest what’s happening in any given week or month and where to look for it. They will allow participants to contribute their own sightings and photos of interesting phenomena. The guides will be developed in multiple versions: e.g. hatch calendars for the angling crowd, and the more general “life along the stream” guide for general audiences.
Through their sport, many anglers have acquired a keen and rather particular perspective on aquatic environments. Their days spent astream in pursuit of trout have sharpened their skills in observing the behavior of fish and aquatic insects, and have given them a heightened appreciation of these members of the riparian community. Others who frequent these areas – birders, boaters, hunters, hikers, mountain bikers, etc. – may possess a different set of experiences and perspectives. All of these recreational interests, when engaged in their sport, are likely to see things that others may miss. In this way, each adopts a particular way of knowing and appreciating the shifting interplay of life in riparian areas through the seasons. It is our intent to work with the participating anglers to reach out to these other interest groups; to invite them to participate in the observation, discussion and discovery of phenological events in their local riparian areas. We seek to identify and exploit the areas of overlapping interests as well as the unique visions that some will have. They will add their photos, their observations, their stories to the virtual tours, field guides and other products the anglers are developing, enriching the content and broadening the scope. Through these collaborative efforts, the involved parties will create their own local knowledge repositories of valued natural areas in each community. These activities and the information generated will provide a solid, science-based foundation from which to have community-level conversations on the value of these ecological and recreation resources to the community, on the climate change and other threats they face, and on possible solutions to these problems. Community leaders and local businesses, especially tourism-based ones (restaurants, outdoor outfitters, etc.) will be invited to join these discussions. We will work with these community groups to help them integrate the information materials they produce into existing education and conservation programs: riverfests, outings, organizations’ web sites, etc. The outputs of this project will be suitable for use in climate change and related conservation efforts occurring at the local level, in statewide and regional forums, and at the national level.
Trout Unlimited is a 140,000-member nonprofit organization, conserving coldwater fisheries since 1959. TU, with its respected staff of scientists, policy experts and educators, has a long history of collaboration with government agencies and other conservation groups promoting sound environmental stewardship. Its contributions to the publication Beyond Seasons End, which describes climate change threats to our nation’s fish and wildlife resources, and its Conservation Success Index are two examples.
This program builds on WRRC’s 20+ years of work with citizen monitoring groups and its longstanding collaborations with experts in climate change and environmental science, fisheries, biology, IT, and communications.