This week our team prepared for our Wednesday meeting with our community partner by reading the available resources on our project. On Wednesday we met with Dave Jaeckel, who is our main contact at the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability and Department of Parks. When we spoke with Dave, he introduced us to his background and education and context within which he understands urban sustainable issues. Dave then led us through the scope of our project, important dates and critical contact information.
For our project, Dave has scoped our problem to aggregating and presenting data that exists on Wildlife Picture Projects and creating a baseline data set for the department. We determined that our second deliverable for the quarter will be to install wildlife cameras in San Pedro Valley Park in February, in doing this we must select the positions for the cameras in install them to best capture photographs of wildlife. Additionally Dave led us through important dates and a list of important contacts through which to inquire about existing data on wildlife cameras.
Our team then discussed best next steps and exchanged contact information. We scheduled a meeting on Thursday January 19th and sent Dave our contact information so that he could add us to Freedcamp.com which is where we will collaborate on tasks along with Google Drive for weekly team journal documents. Our team has also created a Slack channel for day-to-day communication and information-sharing. Additionally we are filling out a Doodle poll to find the best date to install the San Pedro Valley Park wildlife cameras.
What We Observed and Learned
This week, we read two papers that contextualize the purpose and design of our project. Habitat destruction and its accelerating effects on biodiversity loss are no mysteries to science, but the first paper, The Wildlife Picture Index: monitoring top trophic levels, described the difficulties we encounter when we try and quantify and track ecological damage. There is no universal method with which to track and index biodiversity levels (particularly across trophic levels), and identifying biologically critical habitats has been difficult. The Wildlife Picture Index was a system featured in the paper that described one method of capturing data from upper trophic levels - namely, medium-to-large sized fauna that generally occupy the upper range of trophic habitation. The primary method involves camera trapping, the process of setting up cameras throughout a region that take photos when triggered by large enough movements. These cameras capture pictures of animals, and an analog on species density and variety can be catalogued. It is a method that has yielded sufficient success in taking a snapshot of a region’s biodiversity, and, if taken over a long period of time, can be used to track how a region’s ecology evolves/degrades/improves in response to the surrounding human intervention.
The second paper, Critical Linkages: Bay Area and Beyond, introduced the geographical element of biodiversity management. Data, such as that provided by camera mapping, can reveal ecologically critical regions where biodiversity is best sustained. Human activity frequently fractures these regions, and even if the total area of impact is minimal, the way in which roads, train lines, and other urban centres separate key regions can cause a myriad of negative effects, known (interfering with migratory patterns, cutting of species from mating grounds, etc.) and unknown. The paper posited that by using ecological data (of which, as of yet, there is little), we will be better equipped to link biologically rich areas together such that further damage and species loss can be minimized. Crossing structures, such as bridges or underpasses, are one such method of linking these habitats. The data our project provides will hopefully be used to inform future efforts to better integrate the bay area with the environment into which it has inserted itself.
After comparing Dave’s presentation to some of the readings that we’ve done, we realized that projects like the Wildlife Picture Index contribute to conservation efforts on multiple levels. On the one hand, they are ways of collecting fairly quantitative data that can be used in the long term to track species and analyze situations in these parks. On the other hand, having a picture library to show interested members of the community will build community-level involvement and awareness. I mean, who doesn’t love cute pictures of animals? It’s really neat to see how these camera trap projects can serve a dual purpose. Another, perhaps more unorthodox, connection that we made between the project and the readings was the similarity between the Critical Lands Network mentioned in the reading with the initial work that we’re doing. The paper describes the need for an organization to engage multiple smaller conservation agencies and groups and identify a land network that is capable of conserving the biological diversity of the Bay Area as a whole. The initial work that we’re doing for this project involves contacting multiple agencies from around the Bay Area, and trying to visualize the aggregated data into a whole picture of camera trap wildlife conservation efforts in our area. While definitely not as widespread or as comprehensive as the Critical Lands Network, it still feels like we are working to pull different organizations together to solve important (albeit small) problems that affect all of us.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Moving forward we need to initiate contact with potential project partners, align our schedules to find a meeting time, and begin to learn the possibilities offered by different data visualization layouts.
There are a handful of individuals and organizations that currently possess data on the wildlife around San Mateo County Parks. Our first step is to contact these individuals to initiate a sharing process for the data they have. Once we obtain this data we need to organize it in an efficient way and figure out how to display it. While the organization of the data cannot begin until we have gathered it from those who have it, we can familiarize ourselves with the data visualization site Tableau while we wait to begin to ideate on the different ways to format the data and the positives and negatives of each display layout. This said, first priority is to make contact with the people we have been directed to as it may take some time to get a response. A concurrent step that needs to be taken is to work through our schedules to find a good time to meet for the camera installation and for the meet-ups with our project partner. After the initial discussion, we realized we may have only ¾ people present due to scheduling conflicts. This means that if someone cannot make it we need to take notes and inform them of the proceedings of the meeting and our movements going forward.