Monday, May 2, 2011

Save the Redwoods, Digitally

By Nate Seltenrich
Mon, May 2, 2011 at 3:09 PM

Forget camping out high in a redwood or strapping yourself to a trunk; all tree huggers need now is a smart phone or a digital camera. San Francisco's Save the Redwoods League announced Friday a new partnership with environmental social network iNaturalist.org that’s designed to allow citizens help scientists study redwoods around the world. While it won’t stop a bulldozer, the new endeavor, dubbed Redwood Watch, will provide valuable data to conservationists and climate scientists studying the gradual decline of redwood trees. Redwoods and their relatives once grew in forests throughout North America and beyond, but over the last 150 million years their range has shrunk to a mere 1.9 million acres along the California coast.

How can you help? First, find a redwood tree. It could be in your own yard, in a botanical garden, or in a city, regional, state, or national park. Redwoods are rife in East Bay parks including Redwood Regional and Oakland’s Joaquin Miller. Next, take a picture. Then use the free iNaturalist Redwood Watch application to submit your photo along with information about the location, time, species, and any other pertinent details. The iPhone-less need only take a picture and submit the same information online via the iNaturalist website.

Internet mapping and GPS technologies should provide a particular boon to the effort by allowing for precise mapping. Save the Redwoods has already begun working with Google Earth Outreach to add models of old-growth coast redwoods in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park to the ever-expanding 3D Trees layer in Google Earth.

Through the iNaturalist interface, user-submitted data will help the League to monitor redwood trees around the world online and in real time. Eventually, it’ll allow scientists to “track the migration of redwood forests over time, shape future redwood conservation efforts, understand how climate change will impact the redwood forest and its surrounding landscapes, and predict where the redwood forests of tomorrow will thrive,” according to a press release. The entire effort is built upon public participation, so get out there and put your high-tech gizmo to good.

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