“All Good things are wild, and free”

—Henry David Thoreau

Started by citizen science teams in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the City Nature Challenge began in 2016 as a fun way not only to capitalize on those cities’ friendly rivalry, but also to highlight urban biodiversity. The event’s popularity quickly grew, and, by last year, 159 cities across the nation and the globe joined in, submitting millions of photos and identifications of wild plants, animals, and fungi using the free mobile app iNaturalist.

The Pioneer Valley participated in the Challenge for the first time this past spring, and UMass Amherst Science Librarian Melanie Radik spearheaded the effort. Having worked with one of the Boston-area City Nature Challenge organizers in her previous post at Brandeis University, Radik was excited to bring the event here. “I like the purpose,” she says. “It gives [you] a walk outside, and makes you notice so much more about the living things around you.”

Due to the pandemic, the 2020 CNC organizers eliminated the usual competitive aspect and encouraged collaboration, since the Challenge “provides useful information that gives citizens, scientists, educators, urban planners, and policymakers insight into the biodiversity of urban locales throughout the world.”

To prepare, Radik developed a comprehensive guide and held virtual workshops, training campus and community members to observe and identify species using the app. Over several days in late April and early May, the Pioneer Valley group made 1,253 observations of more than 400 species. Worldwide, CNC participants made 815,258 observations and identified 32,600 species.

Next year, Radik plans to work with UMass Amherst science professors to incorporate City Nature Challenge into their syllabi, as well with local wildlife and social centers, like the Hitchcock Center for the Environment and the Springfield Science Museum, to broaden the reach of the Challenge in the Pioneer Valley.

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Top images: “Purple Trillium Blooms at Last” (c) 2014 Distant Hill Gardens/CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0; Black swallowtail butterfly: (c) Anna T./CC BY-NC-SA