Category Archives: Citizen Scientist

Invasive Hunters and Surprises at the Texas Invasive Species Conference

Commander Ben thanks the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council for his Outstanding Citizen Scientist award

Commander Ben thanks the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council for his Outstanding Citizen Scientist award

I had such a great time at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council (TIPPC) conference that was held last month at the UT Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas. I gave my invasive species presentation in the institute’s auditorium, talked with lots of scientists, and received such a great surprise!

Adventures with invasive species presentation

Commander Ben prepares for his invasive species presentation for scientists at the Texas conference

Commander Ben prepares for his invasive species presentation for scientists at the Texas conference

My presentation at this year’s conference was entitled, “Adventures with Invasive Species and the Invasive Hunter Academy”. I talked about how I use social media and my many science videos to educate kids about invasive species. With each of my Battles with Invasive Species videos, I created a character and focused on a specific invasive species that kids could learn from and remember.

For example, you’ve heard of grumpy cat. Here’s my grumpy scientist character who starred in two of my invasive species videos:

Adventures with Invasive Species presentation slide showing my grumpy scientist character's wide range of emotions

Adventures with Invasive Species presentation slide showing my grumpy scientist character’s wide range of emotions

Looking for a fun activity for in-person events led me to create the Invasive Hunter Academy, which I described in my presentation. Since I’m dyslexic, I talked about how I wanted to create a multi-sensory approach to helping kids learn through visual matching, physical activities, and creative crafts. I shared my many successes taking the academy to the US Botanic Gardens in Washington D.C. and to many nature events across Texas.

Graduates from the academy have fun, create an action diorama they can bring home, and become official Invasive Hunters!

I fielded many great questions from the audience, including how my videos can be used in school science classrooms. (Please feel free to use them to help kids learn more about invasive species!) I also received a warm invitation from Dr. Linda Brown, Natural Resource Program Manager with the Texas Military Department, to bring my academy to Camp Mabry!

Scientists gathered from across Texas and the nation

There were many great talks from scientists who are helping to research and control invasive species in Texas. Here are just a few of the presentations from some of the scientists that I had a chance to talk with at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference and at the 2011 conference.

Adding species to Texas’s Noxious and Invasive Plant List

Dr. Damon Waitt and Commander Ben catch a moment together at the Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

Dr. Damon Waitt and Commander Ben catch a moment together at the Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

At this year’s conference, Dr. Damon Waitt led the Leadership and Coordination sessions and he gave a presentation on The Texas Invasive Plant Inventory and Efforts to Add Plant Species to TDA’s Noxious and Invasive Plant List.

Dr. Waitt is the Senior Director and Botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas, and he talked about the successes and challenges for listing invasive species for inclusion on the State of Texas’ Noxious and Invasive Plants list.

Dr. Waitt talked about two invasive plant species that were added to the state’s list:

Dr. Waitt has been a great mentor to me as I’ve learned about invasive species. Here are a few of my blog posts with Dr. Waitt:

Update on invasive species in Texas

Commander Ben and Dr. Earl W Chilton II at the Texas Invasive Species Conference

Commander Ben and Dr. Earl W Chilton II at the Texas Invasive Species Conference

As with the 2011 conference, Dr. Earl W. Chilton gave a wonderful status update on invasive species in Texas with a special focus on aquatic invasives, including the Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). Dr. Chilton is the Aquatic Habitat Enhancement Program Director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Around Central Texas, Dr. Chilton talked about Austin’s successful efforts to bring Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) under control in Lake Austin. He also talked about how scientists found Salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima) near Lake Travis. Unfortunately, fire ants are attacking the larva of the leaf beetles that have been helping to control the spread of Salt cedar across Texas.

At the last conference when I was just a budding invasive hunter, Dr. Chilton talked with me about Reeling in the Top Aquatic Invasive Species in Texas.

Institute for the Study of Invasive Species

Dr. Jerry Cook and Commander Ben near invasive species posters

Dr. Jerry Cook and Commander Ben near invasive species posters

Dr. Jerry Cook is the Associate Vice President for Research at Sam Houston State University. He served as the program chair for this year’s conference, and he talked about the university’s Institute for the Study of Invasive Species (ISIS). He was also part of two presentations at the conference:

I was happy to catch up with Dr. Cook at this year’s conference. I had a chance to create a video interview with him at the 2011 conference to talk about his New Institute for the Study of Invasive Species: Early Detection, Rapid Response.

Coordinating invasive species across Texas

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves

During the conference and at the evening dinner, I had a great time talking with Mr. Justin Bush, Invasive Species Coordinator for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. He has a background working on controlling aquatic and terrestrial invasive species and on habitat restoration projects.

With the Wildflower Center, he works on invasive species projects in Texas and on many parts of the Texas Invasives website, including reviewing pictures and sightings of invasive species uploaded by citizen scientists in their Invasives database.

Mr. Bush helped organize the many workshops for this year’s conference. He was very kind and encouraging, and I’m excited to work with Mr. Bush and the Wildflower Center in the future.

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More invasive species presentations

Commander Ben and Dr. Ronald Billings during a break at the invasive species conference

Commander Ben and Dr. Ronald Billings during a break at the invasive species conference

Since I could only attend one day of the conference (since I didn’t want to miss my high school biology class!), I didn’t get a chance to talk with all of the scientists. Here are just a few of the presenters and session chairs with links to videos where I had a chance to interview them during the last 2011 conference.

There were so many great presentations and sessions at the conference that I can’t list them all. Thanks to everyone for the wonderful conference, including everyone I’ve already mentioned, plus Jim Houser, Alex Mathes, Scott Walker, Trey Wyatt, Mike Murphrey, Autumn Smith-Herron, and Sara Pelleteri.

Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year

Commander Ben receives the 2014 Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year award

Commander Ben receives the 2014 Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year award

I received such a wonderful surprise at Thursday night’s conference dinner! In addition to receiving a presentation award, the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council presented me with the 2014 Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year award!

Wow! I was so honored to receive this award and for all the kind words. It was so heartwarming to hear from a scientist that I was “one of the team!”

Thanks, TIPPC, for the award! I’m so happy that my work to help educate kids about invasive species has had an impact, and I’ll continue to train more invasive hunters to help protect and treasure our native ecosystems.

Invasive Hunter Academy: Spring events

Speaking of the Invasive Hunter Academy, I’m excited to announce that there will be lots of chances for you be part of the academy this spring:

These events are a great chance for kids of all ages to learn about invasive species, have fun with nature, and learn about Texas history. Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, 2014 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Camp Mabry, Chinaberry, Citizen Scientist, Damon Waitt, Dr. Stephen Clarke, Earl Chilton, Hydrilla, Institute for the Study of Invasive Species (ISIS), Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Award, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Japanese Climbing Fern, Jerry Cook, Justin Bush, Karen Clary, Luci Cook-Hildreth, Marine Science Institute, Milam County Nature Festival, Ronald Billings, Saltcedar, Sam Houston State University, Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council, Texas Invasives, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, University of Texas, Zebra Mussel

Invasive Species Are No Match for Austin Citizen Scientists

Johnson grass is no match to the invasive hunter moves of Austin citizen scientists

Johnson Grass is no match for the invasive hunter moves of Austin citizen scientists

This summer, I trained as a citizen scientist with the City of Austin and the Wildflower Center to learn how to hunt the top 24 invasive plants in Austin, and I also joined other volunteers to map the locations of invasive species around Slaughter Creek.

Here are some pictures from our volunteer expedition:

Some ducks waddled up to join our Austin citizen scientist team

Some ducks waddled up to join our Austin citizen scientist team

We used ropes to divide the area into quadrants to report the invasive species that we found and the City of Austin team leaders recorded the locations on their iPad

We used ropes to divide the area into quadrants to report the invasive species that we found and the City of Austin team leaders recorded the locations on their iPad

A Chinaberry, an invasive plant, apprehensively eyes our mapping of Austin invasive species

A Chinaberry, an invasive plant, apprehensively eyes our mapping of Austin invasive species

We gave a thumbs down to the invasive species, Johnson Grass

We gave a thumbs down to the invasive species, Johnson Grass

We had a great time as Austin citizen scientist volunteers to help identify invasive species

We had a great time as Austin citizen scientist volunteers to help identify invasive species

Help identify and map Austin Invasive Species

If you haven’t had a chance to join with other Austin citizen scientists, August 15, 2013, is the last day to help the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department collect data about the invasive species in the parks and lands around Austin.

Your friend,
Ben

P.S. Ms. Jessica Strickland recently moved to California. She was the Invasive Species Program Manager with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. You did a great job helping to educate citizen scientists across Texas about invasive species, and I’ll miss you! Best wishes with your next adventures! 🙂

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Filed under Chinaberry, Citizen Scientist, City of Austin, Jessica Strickland, Johnson Grass, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Slaughter Creek, Uncategorized, Wildflower Center

Citizen scientists train to hunt the top 24 invasive plants in Austin

My sketchbook of the top 24 invasive plant species in Austin, Texas

My sketchbook of the top 24 invasive plant species in Austin, Texas

As the Invasive Hunter, I always have to keep my skills sharp, so on a Saturday in May, I attended an invasive species workshop at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. This workshop was designed especially for citizen scientists who are working with the city of Austin as part of the Austin Invasive Plants Management Plan.

The city of Austin and the Invaders of Texas Program teamed up to train local volunteers how to identify and monitor invasive plants. Citizen scientists who volunteer with this program get to work side by side with city staff to develop a map of where invasive plant species are located, and the city of Austin will use this map to determine how to best treat or remove the invaders.

Learning up close how to identify invasive plants

Learning up close how to identify invasive plants

Ms. Jessica Wilson, Wildland Conservation education manager with the city of Austin, welcomed us to the workshop, and Ms. Jessica Strickland, Invasive Species Program Manager with the Wildflower Center, gave a great talk about invasive species in Texas and those around Austin, the Invaders of Texas Program, and how to report sightings of invasive species online and through the TX Invaders mobile app.

Top 24 invasive plant species in the city of Austin

Top 24 invasive plant species in the city of Austin

We learned about the top 24 invasive plant species in Austin from samples in the Wildflower Center’s library, and got to know them better by being able to see them, feel their leaves and other identifying features, and sketch samples of them to help us remember them when we’re out in the field.

A sample of kudzu, a nasty invasive species

A sample of kudzu, a nasty invasive species

The top 24 invasive plants in Austin cover herbaceous, woody, vines, and aquatic species and include my nemesis, the Giant Reed (Arundo donax)!

We practiced identifying sample invasive plants in a field outside of the Wildflower Center

We practiced identifying sample invasive plants in a field outside of the Wildflower Center

Besides polishing up my knowledge about invasive plants, I also got to spend some time with other citizen scientists (excuse me, future invasive hunters!) and staff from the city of Austin who were a lot of fun.

Commander Ben and Austin invasive species volunteers getting ready for action

Commander Ben and Austin invasive species volunteers getting ready for action

The workshop I attended was part of a series of volunteer workshops that the city of Austin and the Wildflower Center have been holding during the spring of this year.

Here is a great video all about the day created by the City of Austin:

Their goal is to train 180 citizen scientists who are willing to volunteer time during the summer monitoring season.  The next Invasive Species Identification and Monitoring workshop is coming up this weekend, June 8 and 9.  Don’t miss out because this is the last workshop for the season!

I look forward to seeing you in the hunt for invasive species! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Austin Invasive Plants Management Plan, Austin Invasive Species Corps, Citizen Scientist, City of Austin, City of Austin Invaders, City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division, Giant Reed, Invaders of Texas, Invaders of Texas Citizen Science Program, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Workshop, Jessica Strickland, Jessica Wilson, Kudzu, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Mobile app, Texas Invaders, Texas Invasives, TX Invaders, Wildland Conservation Division

Invasive Species vs Texas Invaders iPhone App

For too long, invasive species have crowded out native plants and chased away citizen scientists seeking to report them with pen and paper. Now, the Texas Invaders mobile app brings new technologies to help invasive hunters protect their ecosystems in the Lone Star state and beyond.

Download the Texas Invaders app featured in the video, attend an Invaders of Texas Workshop, and get started reporting invasive species:

Other invasive species app blog posts:

Become a citizen scientist at an Invaders of Texas Workshop

If you’re in Central Texas, learn more about the City of Austin’s volunteer training for invasive species monitoring and the City of Austin Invaders satellite group, and sign up for an upcoming Invaders of Texas Workshop at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:

  • March 23, 2013
  • May 11, 2013
  • May 18, 2013

Hope to see you at one of the workshops soon! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Android, Apple, Austin Invasive Species Corps, Battles with Invasive Species, Citizen Scientist, City of Austin, City of Austin Invaders, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, iPhone, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Mobile app, Texas Invaders, Wildflower Center

iPhone and Android Apps to Learn About and Report Invasive Species

Invasive species apps on the iPhone

Invasive species apps on the iPhone

There are a lot of great mobile apps to learn about and report invasive species. Mr. Chuck Bargeron, technology directory for the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health (also known on the web as Bugwood), has created many apps about invasive species.

I had a chance to talk with Mr. Bargeron at the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference:

In my How to Succeed in Hunting Invasive Species Without Really Trying blog post, I created a video about a fictional mobile app, but there are lots of great real invasive species apps for your mobile phone.

Here are some of the apps that Mr. Bargeron and the University of Georgia helped to create for citizen scientists on the hunt for invasive species. In the following listing, I’ve include links for you to download the iPhone (iPhone and iPad) and Android app versions and a brief description of the apps from their web pages:

  • EDDMapS West
    iPhone | Android
    EDDMapS is a national web-based mapping system for documenting invasive species distribution.
  • Forest Insect Pests
    iPhone | Android
    The photos present in this app are intended to help foresters, urban landscaping employees, or others working with trees recognize some of the common pest insects affecting trees in North America and understand their life cycles and how they damage trees.
  • IveGot1
    iPhone | Android
    Submit invasive species observations directly with your mobile device from the field. These reports are uploaded to EDDMapS and emailed directly to local and state verifiers for review.
  • Outsmart Invasive Species
    iPhone | Android
    The Outsmart Invasive Species project is a collaboration between the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (MA DCR), and the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health at the University of Georgia.
  • What’s Invasive
    iPhone | Android
    One of the greatest dangers to natural areas is the spread of invasive species. This app accesses local lists created by National Park Service rangers and other professionals to show you top invasives species in your area.

These are some of the apps that I’ve tried out on my iPhone, but there are more out there too, including:

  • Texas Invaders (TX Invaders)
    iPhone | Android
    The Invaders of Texas Citizen Science program collects species observations from volunteer citizen scientists trained to use a specially developed Invasive Species Early Detection and Reporting Kit.

I’ll have a special blog post on this app for citizen scientists to report Texas Invasives soon. 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Android, Apple, Bugwood, Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, Chuck Bargeron, Citizen Scientist, EDDMapS West, Forest Insect Pests, Invasive Species, iPad, iPhone, IveGot1, Mobile app, Outsmart Invasive Species, Texas Invaders, University of Georgia, What's Invasive

My Adventure as an Invasive Hunter at SXSW Eco Begins

I’m looking forward to being part of the SXSW Eco conference today!

I’ll be tweeting on my InvasiveHunter Twitter account and creating blog posts about the conference this week.

Tomorrow, I’ll join Ms. Jessica Strickland, Invasive Species Program Manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Dr. Damon Waitt, Director Native Plant Information Network; and an elite team from the Wildflower Center and the Green Army to map invasive species as part of the conference events.

Many thanks to SXSW Eco for inviting me and providing me with a complimentary pass to this conference!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Citizen Scientist, Damon Waitt, Green Army, Invaders of Texas, Invasive Species, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, SXSW Eco, Wildflower Center

Hunt Invasive Species at SXSW Eco

Be part of the fight against invasive species as part of the SXSW Eco conference!

On October 4, Ms. Jessica Strickland, Invasive Species Program Manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and an elite team from the Wildflower Center will show volunteers how to identify and map invasive plant species along Waller Creek in Austin, Texas.

I’ll be part of this volunteer army too. Middle schoolers and teens are welcome, so if you can make it, join me, and I’ll lead a squad of kids to hunt down and map out these invasive species as part of the Wildflower Center teams.

Learn more about being a citizen scientist and invasive species with Ms. Strickland:

Oh no. I hope we don’t run into my nemesis, The Giant Reed!

If so, we’ll be ready!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Citizen Scientist, Giant Reed, Green Army, Invaders of Texas, Invasive Species, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, SXSW Eco, Wildflower Center