Alaska Herpetological Society
USFS Public Use Cabin Logbooks
This component of my citizen science research is considered "passive" because it allows interested individuals to contribute at their liesure without actively seeking their participation in a program with a defined time and place. It contains two components, amphibian specific logbooks and general logbooks as described below. Both methods are being analyzed as METHODOLOGIES for the collection of observational data and for the CONTENT of the data produced. If successful as a unique methodology, it is my hope that they can be expanded to include other taxa and other regions of Alaska.
This initiative aims to engage public guest cabin users within the Wrangell Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in the Tongass National Forest to contribute amphibian observations made during their stay. Participation has been sought through a series of amphibian specific logbooks which concurrently attempt to educate individuals on the amphibians of the region and responsible ways to interact with these species. The books explicitly state the goals of the project as well as the do and donts of participation. Each logbook (binder) contains:
- Alaska Amphibian Field Guide
- Observation Recording Forms
- Don’t Turn It Loose educational pamphlet
- Take-home Reminders for Photograph Submissions
- A Set of Laminated and Bound Amphibian Flash Cards
A total of twenty-three books have been distributed, one to each of the twenty-three guest cabins in the district. The map below (borrowed from USFS) combines all cabins within the Petersburg and Wrangell Ranger districts though only those within the latter are involved. These include: Anan Bay, Anan Lake, Berg Bay, Binkley Slough, Eagle Lake, Frosty Bay, Garnet Ledge, Gut Island #1, Gut Island #2, Harding River, Koknuk, Little Dry Island, Mallard Slough, Marten Lake, Middle Ridge, Mount Flemer, Mount Rynda, Sergief Island, Shakes Slough #1, Shakes Slough #2, Steamer Bay, Twin Lakes, and Virginia Lake. The books were placed in the spring and summer of 2011 and will be collected in the summer and fall of 2013, allowing them to have been in place for at least two amphibian breeding seasons. Given the difficulty of accessing these remote cabins, placement and collection is opportunistic.
The observation pages of the logbooks will be analyzed for completeness and accuracy. Descriptive and inferential analyses of contributions as a function of guest cabin use and location will be undertaken. I will furthermore analyze species specific accounts, location specific encounters and demographic correlations. Additionally, a GIS project layer will be created to spatially represent contributed observations from this component and for the analysis of correlated data points.
The idea for the amphibian-specific logbooks emerged from an unrelated scan of a general guest logbook at the Virginia Lake cabin during the 2010 pilot field season. At this time, I noticed that over a several year period cabin users had noted numerous encounters with amphibians. These observations sometimes included the weather, date, exact location, animal lifestage, sounds, and an animal description. The users unknowingly documented important observational data that can be used, when compiled with other data sources, to better understand local amphibian populations including the timing of spring emergence / chorusing, breeding sites, species diversity, distribution, etc. It occurred to me that this historical information is invaluable, available, but largely inaccessible.
Visitor logbooks situated in public guest cabins are absent from scientific literature as sources of local knowledge and citizen science observations, though opportunistic scanning of these in the Stikine region suggests that in some cases these may contain decades of valuable environmental data, not just pertaining to frogs, but to many species, resources, habitats and climactic conditions. Essentially, cabin users have been unknowing participants of a long-term landscape-monitoring program for many years.They are currently located in the cabins that they were originally placed in and are at high-risk of being permanently lost at any time. In addition, these datasets are useless to researchers until an accessible and searchable database is established.
Currently, these logbooks and the data that they contain are at high risk of being permanently lost in the event of fire, flood, or other unanticipated disaster. They have never been backed up, replaced, or digitized. The wealth of knowledge contained within their observational data is likely valuable to a number of scientific disciplines concerned with global change topics and the research costs necessary to obtain equivalent datasets through active sampling would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, it would be difficult if not impossible to collect these data from the past, lending to the insurmountable need to preserve these resources. The USFS, though it supports the preservation and use of logbook data in the region, has maintained that logistical and financial constraints as well as the need to leave the logbooks in their respective cabins prevents the agency from pursuing such a project on their own.
For these reasons, I am currently seeking funding to archive the data in each of these books into a searchable database that can be easily queried by subject. If successful, the use of visitor logs as databases could become commonplace as a result of this study and could lead to the acquisition of extensive data on many state and federal lands across the United States. For my own purposes, the resulting database will be queried specifically for amphibian observations and compiled with all other observational data.