Last week, a major milestone was reached in our knowledge about state parks – the 200,000th “occurrence record” of species was logged into the system’s Natural Resources Inventory Database (NRID).
An occurrence record is simply an observation of a species in the parks. Every time a state park ranger or biologist – or a visiting
researcher – spots an interesting plant, animal or insect, they may do more than make a mental note. They may log the sighting on the NRID accompanied by a photo. The entries include every imaginable organism – from interesting algae to a zebra swallowtail butterfly. They could be casual observations of a northern cardinal at a feeder or the results of a beetle expert’s forays over a number of days. More than 10,500 different species are known to comprise the diversity of life in the state parks, with “new” species being noted weekly. A recent “bioblitz” at Weymouth Woods State Historic Preserve by rangers, volunteers and experts from universities and other agencies resulted in several hundred new entries in a single day.
Besides the pure science of it, the database helps natural resource managers and park planners make intelligent decisions about growing and developing the state parks. For example, roads, trails and buildings can be placed to avoid important habitats or rare species. About 60 state park units are represented on the database, including parks, recreation areas, undeveloped state natural areas and state lakes.
The NRID grew from a rudimentary database devised in the mid-1990s by Tom Howard, a district naturalist at the time, who combined his interests in biology and computer technology to keep track of species sightings in his district. (Howard is now retired from the state parks system, but continues to develop technology solutions for the
agency.) When Seth Lambiase, a former inventory biologist, began collecting data from park files about species observations, he and Howard collaborated to create an online system in 1999 where these and other records could be housed. Researchers from throughout the nation can sift through the records, and some of the photos have been used in textbooks.
Ed Corey, the current inventory biologist, said, “To reach such an epic mark in only 14 years says much about the dedication of field staff across the division to document the species that occur within our park lands. It also shows the tireless effort and vision that Tom has devoted to such a lasting endeavor as the NRID.”