The Maine Vernal Pool Mapping and Assessment Program: Engaging Municipal Officials and Private Landowners in Community-Based Citizen Science
The Vernal Pool Mapping and Assessment Program (VPMAP) was initiated in 2007 to create a vernal pool database as a planning tool to foster local compliance with new state vernal pool regulations. In the northeastern United States, vernal pools are seasonal wetlands that provide critical breeding habitat for a number of amphibians and invertebrates and provide important resting and foraging habitat for some rare and endangered state-listed species. Using participant observation, interviews, and focus groups, we examined the engagement of municipal officials and private landowners in VPMAP. Important outcomes of municipal and landowner engagement included mobilization of town support for proactive planning, improved awareness and understanding of vernal pools, and increased interactions between program coordinators, municipal officials, and private landowners. Challenges to municipal and landowner engagement included an inconsistency in expectations between coordinators and municipal officials and a lack of time and sufficient information for follow-up with landowners participating in VPMAP. Our study highlights the importance of developing relationships among coordinators, municipal officials, and private landowners in facilitating positive outcomes for all stakeholders and for effective resource management. We suggest an expanded citizen science model that focuses on improving two-way communication among project coordinators, municipal officials, and local citizens and places communication with private landowners on par with volunteer citizen scientist recruitment and field training. Lessons learned from this research can inform the design and implementation of citizen science projects on private land.