Scientists working with the Cibolo Nature Center will soon have a tremendous boost in their capacity to upload and analyze scientific data, thanks to the state-of-the art Internet connection donated to the non-profit conservation education group by GVTC Communications.
In 2008, GVTC made a special effort to extend its fiber optic network to the Cibolo Nature Center, and as a consequence, the organization is connected with the fastest Internet speeds available in South Texas. The 40 Mbps Internet service gives the CNC the ability to efficiently download and upload vast amounts of scientific data through its growing Citizen Science program.
GVTC covered the $50,000 cost to build and connect Cibolo Nature Center with its fiber network. The communications company also provides the center free Internet, cable television, telephone and security monitoring valued at $6,000 annually.
“GVTC believes in the work the Cibolo Nature Center is doing for our community,” Jeff Mnick, GVTC vice president, sales and marketing, said. “With our fiber network in place, the CNC can leverage our technology to advance its studies and educate others on the importance of protecting our environment.”
In addition to its ambitious conservation education programs for children and adults, the Cibolo Nature Center conducts extensive scientific research in partnership with state and federal agencies to study and track the effectiveness of land-stewardship techniques, conducting surveys of vegetation, songbirds, mammals, insects, fish and other aquatic species.
“Volunteer citizen scientists are at the core of our research efforts,” said Ben Eldredge, the CNC’s director of adult education and the Citizen Science program. “We have a small staff and simply could not conduct the amount of research that we do without these volunteers.”
Citizen scientists are trained to collect and record data on wildlife populations and their movements, and work under the guidance of the Cibolo Nature Center Research Group and in cooperation with Texas Parks & Wildlife, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Texas Forest Service and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“Our research program provides environmental survey techniques to citizen scientists who collect ecological data and store it with the Cibolo Nature Center,” Eldredge said. “This data is used to assess land-management practices and their impacts on biological diversity. Our survey techniques are also useful to local landowners who want to conduct their own surveys.”
However, as the CNC’s Citizen Science program has grown, so has the amount of data it collects. “We’re encountering a major challenge in recording, tracking and analyzing it all so it can be put to practical use,” he said.
For example, practical use could mean having the ability to measure specifically how a controlled burn on the Cibolo Nature Center’s prairie in the winter affects butterfly populations in the spring, Eldredge said, adding, “Our goal is to share the most effective land-management techniques with local landowners, urban planners and members of the public who want to protect wildlife habitat.”
Once the data storage system is up and running, which will take a year or two to accomplish, citizen scientists, landowners and conservation partners will be able to easily and quickly upload data from wildlife surveys and then be able to use the system to analyze the data.
“Now, the data we receive is typically hand written on paper, and someone – often a volunteer – has to manually enter it into our computer system,” Eldredge said. “You can imagine what a bottleneck this causes.
“With the huge bandwidth of the fiber-optic system GVTC donated to us, citizen scientists will be able to simply upload all that data from home. We’re even working on the possibility of a phone application for this, so volunteers and landowners can record data electronically and upload it from the field.”
Volunteer citizen scientists at the Cibolo Nature Center participate in ongoing and seasonal wildlife studies such as monarch butterfly monitoring, regular bird counts, water-quality testing and vegetation surveys. Those interested in volunteering are asked to contact Ben Eldredge at (830) 249-4616 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (830) 249-4616 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or firstname.lastname@example.org, or to visit www.cibolo.org.
The Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne is located on 162 acres of natural lands at Boerne City Park off Highway 46 just west of the Kendall County Fairgrounds. The Cibolo Nature Center’s mission is conservation of natural resources through education and stewardship. Learn more at www.cibolo.org.