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Community and citizen science on the Elwha River: Past, present, and future

March 23, 2023

This report reflects on the past, present, and potential future of community and citizen science (CCS) in the Elwha River watershed, with particular focus on the years before and after a major restoration event: the removal of two dams that had impacted the river system for a century. We ask: how does CCS feature in the Elwha story and how could it feature? We use the term CCS to reference the broad range of ways in which members of the public might participate in authentic science and monitoring processes, including students and both paid and unpaid interns: participants are individuals contributing to scientific projects without prior formal training in the topic.

Removal of the Elwha dams was a large-scale, complex project, and communities had an important role to play: the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (LEKT) and other local groups were a large part of the original drive to remove the dams. Some funding and policy requirements for monitoring are ending, but there is still much to learn from the changes happening in the Elwha, requiring ongoing research and monitoring. In 2022, the Elwha scientific community came together in a multifaceted effort called the “Elwha ScienceScape” to mark the ten-year anniversary of dam removal and to plan for future monitoring. One of ScienceScape’s priorities is expanding CCS efforts, and because the Elwha dam removal is a powerful international symbol of large-scale watershed restoration, ScienceScape is well-positioned to inform and emphasize the potential role of CCS in dam removal worldwide.

This report presents insights about Elwha CCS from an academic literature review and discussions with scientists and many others that have been working in the Elwha. We found that the history of CCS on the Elwha is important but understated, with few scientific papers acknowledging support by volunteers of various kinds. Recent and ongoing CCS projects on the Elwha tend to be focused on biological phenomena, and most are associated with educational opportunities (across many types of institutions) and paid internships. We also noted that most Elwha CCS projects required volunteers with particular pre-existing skill sets (e.g., botanical knowledge) or time to impart specialized training (e.g. boat use), leading many projects towards engagement with a smaller number of volunteers.

Partners working in the Elwha are considering a wide range of potential new CCS projects, and these ideas are in varying stages of development. Many new projects would broaden public involvement in terms of the opportunities available and increase the variety of focal topics for research and monitoring. This increased breadth is promising: there are indications that the local community’s interests also range widely, from fish recovery after dam removal to dam removal impacts on humans.

Elwha CCS projects have encountered some challenges and barriers, including the administrative burden of coordinating volunteers and managing liability concerns. But Elwha ScienceScape scientists are committed to the value that CCS brings both to the research itself as well as to those who participate in these projects. CCS can be a way to increase equity in science and engage people who would not otherwise participate in research, and in many cases the research simply wouldn’t be possible without their help. Support with project administration, volunteer management, and data management could help in expanding CCS efforts and broadening their inclusivity. More systematic tracking of CCS projects to assess how they contribute to research and to community and participant benefit could be helpful in establishing and maintaining a long-term CCS strategy in the Elwha.

Publication Year 2023
Title Community and citizen science on the Elwha River: Past, present, and future
DOI 10.58076/C64W2B
Authors M. V. Eitzel, Sarah A. Morley, Chelsea Behymer, Ryan Meyer, Anna Kagley, Heidi L. Ballard, Christopher Jadallah, Jeffrey J. Duda, Laurel Jennings, Ian M. Miller, Justin Stapleton, Anne Shaffer, Allyce Miller, Patrick B. Shafroth, Barbara Blackie
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Index ID 70241888
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center; Western Fisheries Research Center