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Environmental Monitoring Project Ideas

Citizen Science environmental monitoring projects are great ways to get students involved with relevant, real-world projects that can enhance your classroom instruction at the school forest. The information that students collect is used by citizens, scientists, and/or agencies to monitor environmental quality. Students gain ecological knowledge, learn about data collection, practice scientific inquiry, acquire observation skills, and utilize critical thinking skills. There are a wide diversity of projects in which to involve your students.


Seasonal change is all around us. We see it in the length of a day, in the appearance of a flower, in the flight of a butterfly. Journey North engages students and citizen scientists around the globe in tracking wildlife migration and seasonal change. K-12 students share their own field observations with classmates across North America….and updated maps within the program allow you to watch the migration of different species across the continent. Projects include studying the first signs of robins, monarchs, loons, the flowing of maple sap, and even changes in daylight.

Visit the Journey North Website


Did you know that all earthworms in Wisconsin are invasive species?! Although worms can be good for your garden, they are bad for hardwood forests which evolved without earthworms disturbing the soil. Survey your school forest for the impacts of invasive earth worms. The data collected through the Wisconsin Worm Watch survey is very valuable to Forest Health Specialists in the WDNR. Information provided in the surveys helps them understand the distribution of invasive earthworms across Wisconsin and their impact on local forests. In this lesson, students will use language arts, science, critical thinking, and math skills to participate in a citizen science project and determine if invasive earthworms are present in a forest. For more information about earthworms (including a great booklet for identifying earthworm species), visit the Great Lakes Worm Watch website. An elementary/middle school version of the lesson is also available.

Visit the Great Lakes Worm Watch Website
View the Elementary/Middle School Version

Forest Fungi Project

The Forest Fungi Project launched by the Lankau lab in Plant Pathology department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a citizen science initiative aimed at getting the public (that’s you!) involved in the sciences.  We hope to learn more about the environmental and climatic factors controlling the distribution of fungi. We are asking for samples from every state east of the Mississippi River. The Lankau lab invites you to participate. Simply go to a forested area, identify a trees species, collect leaves, dig a hole, and collect roots and soil. Place your samples in a labeled sandwich bag and mail to the Lankau lab. During your sampling, you will be able to explore a forested area, take pictures and share in our photo log. We will display data as soon as samples are processed so you can see how you contributed to the Forest Fungi Project.  More information and directions can be found at the Forest Fungi Project website. 

Visit the Forest Fungi Project Website

Project Feeder Watch

Project Feeder Watch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. Citizens help scientists track movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Visit the Project Feeder Watch Website

Community Collaborative Rain Hail Snow Network (CoCoRaHS)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are major sponsors of this project. It is a national research initiative that works to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow). Each time a rain, hail or snow storm crosses your area, students take measurements of precipitation from their reported location and recorded on the web site. The National Weather Service, other meteorologists, hydrologists, emergency managers, city utilities (water supply, water conservation, storm water), insurance adjusters, USDA, engineers, mosquito control, ranchers and farmers, outdoor & recreation interests, teachers, students, and neighbors in the community are just some examples of those who use this data.

Visit the COCORAHS Website

Wisconsin First Detector Network (WIFDN) (for Invasive Species Reporting) from UW Extension

Did you know that not all green is good? Some of the most common plants you encounter in your daily lives are having a devastating impact on Wisconsin’s iconic landscapes. These species were introduced through human activity and are therefore classified as invasive species. Invasive species can be plants, animals, insects, fungi, or diseases. Wisconsin First Detector Network is a citizen science-based program designed to provide a platform to support invasive species early detection and monitoring in Wisconsin. WIFDN provides training on invasive species biology, impacts, and identification in order to demonstrate the importance of invasive species issues.

WIFDN also supports several hands on volunteer projects in order for participants to actively contribute to statewide invasive species monitoring. All of the information collected through volunteer projects goes directly to invasive species experts with the USDA, the University of Wisconsin, land managers, and is made publicly available.

Visit the WIFDN Website
Download the Free Early Detection Network App for Reporting Invasive Species

Project BudBurst

Every plant tells a story. Whether you have an afternoon or a whole season, you can make an important contribution to a better understanding of changing climates. We are a national network of people monitoring plants as the seasons change. Making observations of when plants leaf, flower, and fruit is the heart of Project BudBurst. There are 2 ways you can observe plants — Regular Reports and Single Reports. Both approaches provide useful data.

Visit the Project Budburst Website

Urban Tree Phenology by Project BudBurst

Urban Tree Phenology (UTP), a special project of Project BudBurst, is designed to engage professional urban foresters and the public in observations of the phenological events of trees in our nations’ urban areas in order to raise awareness of climate change and urban heat island research. Participation in UTP is designed to be simple and straightforward.

Visit the Urban Tree Phenology Webpage

BudBurst Buddies by Project BudBurst

BudBurst Buddies encourages young learners to make simple observations of how plants change during the growing season. Budburst Buddies is intended to help young learners at an elementary learning level become aware that plants respond to changing seasons. To participate, kids pick a tree or shrub to watch and make multiple observations of that plant during the year. Following the format of the BudBurst Buddies Journal, kids note the dates when they make observations and look to see if their plant has bare twigs/branches, flowers, leaves, seeds or fruit. If they make at least four observations and submit them at the Report What You Saw page, they will receive an official BudBurst Buddy certificate.

Visit the BudBurst Buddies Website

Water Action Volunteers

Water Action Volunteers (WAV) is a statewide program for Wisconsin citizens who want to learn about and improve the quality of Wisconsin’s streams and rivers. The program is coordinated through a partnership between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin – Cooperative Extension. Citizens, civic groups, 4-H clubs, students and other volunteer groups are participating in WAV programs across the state. It consists of three parts: stream monitoring, river clean ups and storm drain stenciling. In addition, the program offers a variety of water-related educational materials for educators.

Visit the Water Action Volunteers Website

Wisconsin Classroom Milkweed Monitoring Network

The Wisconsin Classroom Milkweed Monitoring Network uses milkweed plants to detect ozone air pollution. Classrooms provide plant injury data to DNR’s air management biomonitoring unit and receive direct results about local air quality.

Visit the Wisconsin Classroom Milkweed Monitoring Network Website

Wisconsin’s Volunteer Carnivore Tracking Program

Because carnivores such as wolves, fisher, and bobcats are often secretive and occupy very large home ranges, it is difficult to monitor them by direct observation. The Wisconsin DNR relies on your observations of the number and location of tracks to help them estimate the abundance and distribution of carnivores.

Visit the Wisconsin’s Volunteer Carnivore Tracking Program Website

Who’s Who of Citizen Monitoring Wisconsin

The Who’s Who of Citizen-based Monitoring in Wisconsin is a directory of citizen programs and organizations in Wisconsin that focus on the monitoring of natural resources. You can search by county to find on-going monitoring projects in your area.

Visit the Who’s Who of Citizen Monitoring Wisconsin Website

Monarch Larva Monitoring Project

The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project involves citizens in collecting data that will help to explain the distribution and abundance patterns of monarch butterflies in North America.

Visit the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project Website

Lost Ladybug Project

Across North America ladybug species composition is changing. Over the past twenty years native ladybugs that were once very common have become extremely rare. During this same time ladybugs from other parts of the world have greatly increased both their numbers and range. We’re asking you to join us in finding out where all the ladybugs have gone so we can try to prevent more native species from becoming so rare.

Visit the Lost Ladybug Project Website

Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard is one of the most aggressive woodland invasive species. Within a few years it can completely dominate invaded areas and suppress other plants and limit tree and shrub regeneration. For information on identification, known (official) range of occurrence, and control methods, visit the WDNR’s garlic mustard website. Here’s a neat video that explains garlic mustard identification and control: Link

Visit the WDNR’s Garlic Mustard Website
Watch a Video on Garlic Mustard Identification and Control

The Cerceris Project

Emerald ash borer is notoriously difficult to detect when infestations are light. Early detection of emerald ash borer can provide the opportunity to save many of the high value ash trees in the area. The Cerceris project uses a native stingless wasp to do most of the work for us. (Cerceris fumipennis) or Cerceris for short, is a predatory wasp that feeds on wood boring beetles and loves to build its solitary nests in bare compacted soil, such as baseball diamonds. They also have a habit of dropping a certain percentage of their prey near the entrance to their underground burrows.

Do you have access to baseball diamond(s) on or near your property? By walking around baseball diamonds and picking up the discarded beetles, students can aid in the early detection of emerald ash borer! The Cerceris project also provides information about distribution of native wood boring beetles and has the potential to detect new infestations of invasive beetles not known to exist in Wisconsin. The introduction of new species of invasive beetles could be as damaging to Wisconsin’s ecosystems as emerald ash borer. The Cerceris Project is supported by UW Extension’s Wisconsin First Detector Network (WIFDN).  

View a Short Video About The Cerceris Project

If you are interested in learning more or participating, please contact Tony Summers:
Phone: (608) 262-9570

School Forest Resources

Use the buttons below to navigate the rest of the school forest website to find relevant information and resources for your local school forest programs.

About Wisconsin’s School Forests

Learn more about the Wisconsin’s School Forest Program’s history, and explore the registered School Forests around Wisconsin.

Getting Started / Registration

Learn more about the educational value that the School Forest Program offers, who is eligible to apply, and the registration process.

Developing Your School Forest Program

Developing your School Forest Program can be challenging. LEAF’s School Forest Program provides several tools to get you started.

Sustaining Your School Forest

LEAF provides several tools and resources you may find helpful as you think about programming to offer at your school forest.