An international biodiversity challenge is coming to Ohio in April and local parks are betting on Cincinnatians to beat the competition from Columbus and Cleveland. The City Nature Challenge pits cities against each other in a race to document the natural world.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want bragging rights in the state of Ohio. I hope you can hear me Cleveland and Columbus," taunts Lindsey Tassone, recreation specialist with Cincinnati Parks Urban Forestry.
The 10-day challenge encourages people to get outside, take pictures of all the plants and wildlife in your community, upload them to the free iNaturalist app, and then identify them. Organizers call it a "bioblitz-style" competition to see who can make the most observations of nature, find the most species, and engage the most people.
"There's a lot of great reasons to have a bioblitz event," Tassone says. "One is cataloging what is in Hamilton County; what's in our backyard. It's hard to protect something if you don't know what's there. It can also help with community programming and education. It might help make preventive plans for invasive species and it can also help prioritize some areas over others that may need more protection or more improvement."
Cincinnati Parks and Great Parks of Hamilton County are teaming with organizations across Hamilton County to challenge Columbus and Cleveland.
"It gets the public aware of what's in their own backyard along with what is out there in Cincinnati Parks ... and Great Parks," adds Megan Baudendistel, communications and visual designer with Cincinnati Parks. "It really engages them so that they can learn about their true ecosystem and environment."
The 2021 challenge runs April 30 through May 9. Participants spend the first half - April 30 through May 3 - out taking and uploading pictures. The second half - May 4 through May 9 - is spent cataloging and identifying the finds.
Results will be announced May 10.
"When we talk about cataloging urban biodiversity, what that means is wildlife. Any wild plant, any wild animal, any wild fungus. Any of that is game to go toward the City Nature Challenge," Tassone explains.
You don't need to know what you're cataloging; other participants can help identify images later.
"Those people who maybe aren't physically able to get out into their parks or don't feel comfortable with COVID right now can still be a part of it by logging in on their desktop (computer) during the second half of it and helping identify the different species that have been collected," adds Baudendistel.
You also don't have to visit a city or county park. The challenge includes nature anywhere in Hamilton County. If you want to do a little 'back country' hiking, that's great. If you're only able to get out in your own yard or neighborhood, that's fine too.
How It Started
The City Nature Challenge began in 2016 as a Citizen Science Day event between friendly rival institutions in Los Angeles and San Francisco. More than a thousand people logged more than 20,000 observations in one week. The following year the event expanded to cities across the United States, and in 2018 it went international.
You can learn more about how to get the iNaturalist app here. iNaturalist is a joint initiative of the National Geographic Society and the California Academy of Sciences.