App Helps NPS Visitors ID Invasive Species

BY LINDSAY KEY – SEPTEMBER 4, 2018

When Online Master of Natural Resources (MNR) student Hope Fraser learned about a smartphone app developed to help people identify invasive species in their own backyards, she had one question: why don’t more people know about this?

The app, called the Mid-Atlantic Early Detection Network (MAEDN) was developed in 2010 with funding support from Invasive Plant Control, Inc., the Mid-Atlantic Invasive Plant Council, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, in collaboration with the National Park Service, University of Maryland, US Department of Agriculture, and US Forest Service to help both everyday people and experts to report invasive species using their cell phones. The goal was to improve distribution information and control. The region covered includes Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersy, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Fraser knew how valuable it would be to have visitors identify and record invasive species they encountered while enjoying public lands. Early detection is key to addressing problems caused by invasive species, and many national parks are short-staffed.

At the time, Fraser was working in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, so she contacted Dale Nisbet, the park’s Natural Resources Specialist, to discuss using the app for interpretation programs. Once she had the go-ahead from Nisbet, Fraser then contacted MAEDN Coordinator Jil Swearingen to ask if she could help market the app by integrating it into the invasive species interpretation program at the park.

Since Fraser was also enrolled in Transboundary Resource Management , an MNR course taught each Spring, she proposed using the app for a class project. Her instructor, Dr. Jennifer Lawrence, was an enthusiastic supporter.

“In my courses, I like to offer students the opportunity to use class assignments in ways that will benefit their career aspirations. Hope’s project on identifying invasive species really captures the spirit of my teaching and the Transboundary Resource Management course,” Lawrence explained. “Exploring an issue that’s of interest to the student, with real-world value, through the lens of the course concepts is something I encourage all students to do. Hope’s project is an exceptional example.”

With all the necessary pieces in place, Fraser began handing out fact sheets to visitors about how to log-in and use the app.  “One huge aspect of natural resources management is education and getting the information out there,” said Fraser.  “A lot of people unknowingly put non-native species in their lawns for landscaping purposes.”

The fact sheet she distributed defines an invasive species according to the National Invasive Species Information Center (NISIC) as a “non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” It explains that human actions, including international trade, seed and soil contamination, the development of roads, and outdoor recreation and tourism are the primary means of invasive species introduction. It also discusses natural ways that invasive species can be introduced such as waterways that facilitate seed spread, wind, and wildlife excrement.

Lastly, the fact sheet educates the public about the pros and cons of invasive species, and three solutions that are used in management: prevention/education, early detection/rapid assessment, and control/containment/eradication.

“Even though Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is a historical park, we were trying to include more natural resources interpretation, because the millennial generation is geared more towards natural resources,” said Fraser. “I wanted to show visitors how they can use technology for natural resources.”

While the app is similar in some ways to the popular iNaturalist app, but unlike that app, it focuses purely on identifying invasive species, and users can create lists of species to look for in their own areas. Three invasive species in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park are the emerald ash borer, gypsy moth, and English ivy. The app also allows users to directly contact the app developer for feedback about a species they’ve uploaded.

“I think it’s really easy to use,” said Fraser. “Another great aspect of the app is that it can also be used on a computer, for those who prefer computers over Smartphones.”

“Hope’s efforts in sharing this technology with the public in her daily interactions and communications with national park visitors and the general public are to be commended,” said Swearingen. “Individuals like Hope are crucial to furthering national goals of public education, early detection and effective management of invasive species to help protect our national parks and natural ecosystems.”

Fraser began the Online MNR program in May 2017 when she was working in Shenandoah National Park.

“I did a lot of shopping around, and other programs didn’t give me the flexibility I needed,” she said. “What attracted me to Virginia Tech’s Online MNR program is that I could do it at any time. It really benefitted me because at the time I was working a four ten-hour day schedule in the park.”

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Hope Fraser is a graduate student in Virginia Tech’s Master of Natural Resources (MNR) degree program. In September of this year, she accepted a position at Arbormetrics. She also works as a substitute teacher for Loudoun County public schools and, in her free time,  she volunteers at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, helping with a variety of mapping and invasive removal projects. Hope received her BS in Environmental Studies with a focus on Natural Resource Management from Shepherd University, and expects to complete her MNR degree in December 2018.