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The Natural History Museum Shows There's So Much Nature in LA!

Posted January 22, 2020 by Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

This is an update on the winning proposal from the PLAY category in the 2019 LA2050 challenge.

Is There Really Nature in L.A.?

Challenging the misconception that nature does not exist in cities is our passion here in the Community Science Program at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC). We actively recruit volunteers who live and work in Los Angeles to help dispel this myth, and we engage residents in making wildlife observations. We show families, teachers, and youth how to become community scientists by teaching them how to use the iNaturalist mobile app to turn their observations of backyard wildlife into real data points that are shared with NHMLAC scientists and staff. This community-sourced information, a vital component of urban nature research, can be used to answer authentic scientific questions about the plants, animals, and fungi living in Los Angeles. Through this community-based participation, Angelenos form connections to nature in their neighborhoods and contribute to a database of knowledge that can even be used to inform policy or city planning.

As an LA2050 grant recipient, we are expanding our community science programming at NHMLAC to reach thousands of people from communities across Los Angeles County. We are proud to partner with the Goldhirsh Foundation to further the initiative to make LA a better place to play!

(Pictured: Youth at the Wildlife to Watts event identifying their neighborhood bats)

Welcoming Michelle to Our Team

With the help of the LA2050 grant we were able to hire Michelle Race, our new full time Community Science Coordinator. She joins our team with five years of experience in environmental education and a background in connecting underrepresented communities to the outdoors. Her work focuses on creating new partnerships, training new community scientists, and planning outreach events.

(Pictured: LA2050 Community Science Coordinator, Michelle Race)

Meeting People Where They Live

Since receiving our LA2050 grant, we have traveled all over Los Angeles County, interacting with over 1400 people at nine different events. We attended “Wildlife to Watts" to share news about the bats that have been detected in South L.A. We trained the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council on how to use iNaturalist, introducing them to NHMLAC community science projects and supporting their biodiversity initiative with LA Sanitation and Environment. We partnered with LA County Library for a Nature Day at A C Bilbrew Library in Willowbrook where families watched a squirrel marionette show, touched a live snake, listened to a nature story, and explored the wildlife just outside the library with NHMLAC staff. And we hosted a youth BioBlitz to test our new Nature Exploration kits while searching for wildlife at Colorado Lagoon in Long Beach. In total, participants at our events have contributed nearly 200 new observations on iNaturalist, and counting!

(Pictured Left: A young participant observing a bee during the nature walk at A C Bilbrew Library)

(Pictured Right: A Watts resident learning about bats in Los Angeles from LA2050 Community Science Coordinator, Michelle Race)

Challenging Perceptions of Nature

Some of our favorite moments during community science programs include seeing the surprise on people's faces when they learn that there are 12 species of bats that might be living in their local park, or experiencing the excitement of a kid catching an insect and observing it up close. For one of our youth participants at the Colorado Lagoon BioBlitz, his “wow!" moment was, “When we first laid on our stomachs and looked under the pier and saw how many mussels there were!". Those unexpected discoveries help shift the perspective on the diversity of life that can be found in urban environments.

(Pictured: Participants and NHMLAC Community Science Staff at Colorado Lagoon)

Helping Teachers in the Outdoor Classroom

Another component of our goal to reach more Angelenos includes the creation of new digital media that can be used by educators to incorporate community science into their curriculum. This project is intended to assist teachers in using the outdoors as a classroom and to help their students practice scientific skills. These digital resources will eventually include: lessons aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, videos on how K-12 audiences can do community science, and suggestions for how to work with school administration to implement new curricula.

Community Science for Everyone!

Not a teacher? Do not fret, we're also making community science videos for the general public. Ever wanted to know how to take better pictures of wildlife with your phone, or how to help other community scientists identify their observations? We are creating short videos that will give everyone the tools needed to take part in our projects. They will be released in April, right before the City Nature Challenge, a world-wide competition where cities compete to see who can find and document the most plants and wildlife.

(Pictured: Members of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council at a training about iNaturalist)

Spreading Community Science All Over L.A.

We are looking forward to 11 more events in the coming months and are continuously working to plan more programs to add to our calendar.

In February, we're hosting an iNaturalist training for Boundless Brilliance, an organization that is working to close the STEM gender gap. We are excited to participate for the first time in La Plaza de Cultura y Artes' Family Day in March, where we'll explore local wildlife with visitors. We'll kick off Earth month, co-hosting a bug hunt with Boundless Brilliance at the City of STEM event on April 4th. Then, in the run up to the City Nature Challenge, you will find us teaching volunteers how to use iNaturalist during the Friends of the LA River's annual river clean-ups. Finally, in May, we'll be at the International Science and Engineering Fair education outreach day, where we'll provide interactive programming for students visiting from schools all over L.A. County.

(Pictured: Visitors on a nature walk at A C Bilbrew Library with Senior Manager of the Community Science Program, Lila Higgins)

Nature Play & Science

Getting thousands of youth and adults out into L.A.'s nature has been a powerful experience for all.

We've watched kids dig for pill bugs at their local library, heard parents and their little ones exclaim as they pulled up a sea cucumber to examine closely, and seen hundreds of new iNaturalist observations be submitted. We're excited to see where the next six months will take us and we hope you'll come along for the journey.

Be sure to sign up for the LA2050 email list where we'll be sharing all of the details on how you can join us at one of our upcoming events. We hope to see you soon for a day when we can all play outdoors in LA!