Master naturalists document wildlife during City Nature Challenge

For some Tyler residents, a community is more than just a population of people living and working within a defined area on a map.

They look beyond the buildings and roads to part of a community that fills in the spaces with beauty and awe that only nature can provide.

📷 David Harrison

Beginning April 29, volunteer naturalists plan to set out to document the flora and fauna in Smith County as part of the City Nature Challenge.

The challenge is a four-day “global bioblitz” to see which city can gather the most observations of nature, find the most species and engage the most people in the event. Participants can download the Inaturalist app and take photos of plants and wildlife in their area.

📷 David Harrison

Bob Lumpkins, the organizer for the City Nature Challenge in East Texas, said the event fits with what master naturalists like himself enjoy doing.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to be … citizen scientists,” he said. “We’ve just been waiting for this.”

In the beginning

The challenge began in 2016 as a competition between San Francisco and Los Angeles but grew into an international event to find and document wildlife and plants in different areas.

The event is coordinated by community science teams at the California Academy of Science and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

In 2021, more than 52,000 volunteers made more than one million observations and found more than 45,000 species. 

Information collected from the event — scheduled in two parts —is used to monitor different species. 

📷 David Harrison

Part 1, April 29-May 2, involves photographing wild plants and animals. Part 2, May 3-8, involves identifying what is found.

Master naturalists volunteer

“We have so much going on with climate change. How can we make an impact as citizens? And this is one way, is by collecting this information so that those who are doing research can evaluate it,” master naturalist Carol Lanthrum said. “We’re part of this earth and if people would appreciate that more, I think we could handle some of these problems such as climate change.”

The City Nature Challenge uses the Inaturalist app to record photos in a 10-county area for East Texas. 📷 courtesy Texas Master Naturalist

Lumpkins and Lanthrum are volunteer members of the East Texas Chapter of Master Naturalists associated with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and agriculture extension. 

To become a master naturalist, a person must undergo 40 hours of training and perform 40 hours of work in a specific area.

Certified master naturalist Dale Wade explains the City Nature Challenge at Rose City Artisans and Flower Market April 8 and 9 at the Goodman-LeGrand house in Tyler. 📷 courtesy Robert Lumpkins

Chapter members help the city of Tyler by maintaining trails at Faulkner Park and worked with TPWD by placing cameras (called “camera trapping”) in specific areas and then retrieving the memory cards and downloading the photos into a database, Lumpkins said.

Tyler is part of a 10-county East Texas section of the City Nature Challenge documented through the inaturalist app. Lumpkins said he is part of a group that will concentrate on Smith County and an area near Mineola.

“The benefit of the CNC is really just, hopefully, getting people introduced to the outdoors if they’re not already cognizant,” Lumpkins said. “So, their stewardship improves. Really, it’s folks getting out, taking pictures and appreciating the world.”

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Vanessa E. Curry is a journalist with nearly 35 years of experience as a writer, editor and instructor. She earned a B.S. degree in Mass Communication from Illinois State University and a MSIS degree from The University of Texas at Tyler with emphasis on journalism, political science and criminal justice. She has worked newspaper in Marlin, Henderson, Tyler and Jacksonville, Texas as well as in Columbia Tennessee. Vanessa also was a journalism instructor at the UT-Tyler and Tennessee Tech University. Her writing has been recognized by the State Bar of Texas, Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, Dallas Press Club, and Tennessee Press Association. She currently is working on publishing two books: "Lies and Consequences: The Trials of Kerry Max Cook," and "A Gold Medal Man, A biography of Kenneth L. "Tug" Wilson.
Jane Neal is the executive director of The Tyler Loop and storytelling director of Out of the Loop: True Stories about Tyler and East Texas. In addition to the Loop, she works at the Literacy Council of Tyler and attends Sam Houston State University remotely, where she studies sociology. Jane is a certified interfaith spiritual guide. She is a member of Leadership Tyler Class 33 and a former teacher of French at Robert E. Lee High School, where she ran a storytelling program called Senior Stories. Jane and her husband Don have four children.