Caroline Zimmerman discusses the history of the island at the 4th annual BioBlitz

The Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center hosted its 4th annual BioBlitz event June 15, bringing passionate naturalists to the private nature reserve to chronicle the life within.

According to Justin Hougham, an associate professor with UW-Madison Extension and the director of the learning center, the BioBlitz is an evolution of a classic tradition among conservationists.

“The first version of this was the Audobon Christmas bird count,” Hougham said. “That was focused on one type of organism, birds. Later on, it developed into this current term, BioBlitz, to get the public to better understand the biodiversity of an area and to get folks outside.”

The Audobon Christmas bird count still happens every year, but Upham branched off into a more expansive direction. Instead of exclusively cataloguing birds, participants record any noteworthy plant life they come across on the island they’re canvassing. They use an app to upload their findings to an easily accessible cloud system. And according to Hougham, the more plants they find, the more potential evidence of a successful ecosystem.

“A rare plant is an indicator of ecosystem health, it indicates clean air, clean water, healthy soil,” Hougham said.

The area for this year’s BioBlitz was Blackhawk Island, a 210-acre island on Upham Woods property. Learning center staff and community members set out armed with phones and cameras to track any interesting plant or wildlife they came across.

According to Caroline Zimmerman, Upham Woods’ conservation program coordinator, quantity of data from participants is key to the event’s success.

“Our idea is to log as much biodiversity as we can,” Zimmerman said. “That’s going to give us information about, one, what we have here in order to map it, and two, land restoration and management following that.”

Zimmerman said that BioBlitz is a good platform to take further steps in conservation in the woods, leading to proper land restoration and trail management on the island.

For participating community members, they aren’t looking quite so much at the big picture. For Laura Dekeyrel, she sees BioBlitz as a good way to help out and see nature.

“I get notifications from the DNR whenever there’s volunteer opportunities,” Dekeyrel said. “I try to do them more, but usually [I do] about twice a month in the nice season.”

When asked what it is about events like this that interest her, Dekeyrel replied that she enjoys both being in nature and taking it in with others. She also is passionate about plants, and BioBlitz provides an outlet for her to explore.

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