Citizen science project: Birding volunteers collect 360 lbs of litter

By Christine Luciano, Fort Hood DPW EnvironmentalFebruary 23, 2023

Birding volunteers cleaning up
Armed with grabbers and trash bags in one hand and binoculars in the other, volunteers and avian experts scan the skies for a cinnamon teal during the Great Backyard Bird Count and Trash-Off event at Fort Hood, Texas, Feb. 17. (Photo Credit: Christine Luciano, Fort Hood DPW Environmental) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HOOD, Texas - Volunteers like Cassie Bray and her 7-year-old daughter Briley Bray ventured out to Kouma Village here on a chilly Friday morning, Feb. 17, to volunteer alongside community members and Fort Hood biologists.

The Adaptive and Integrative Management Team hosted a Great Backyard Bird Count and Trash-Off event at Cantonment E Pond.

“I was grateful for the experience to be connected to nature and the outdoors,” Bray said. “It was gratifying to see the amount of trash at the end, but during the process it was overwhelming. The calmness and patience of the volunteers along with the dedication of the Fort Hood staff was moving.”

Armed with binoculars, gloves, trash bags and grabbers, a group of 12 individuals gathered early in the morning for a birding adventure and to clean up litter at one of Fort Hood’s ponds.

Charlie Plimpton, avian biologist, AIM Team, noticed the amount of litter at the site during the Christmas Bird Count and saw an opportunity to combine birding with a trash-off event.

“The event fell together with the Great Backyard Bird Count,” he said. “The citizen science project ties in nicely to get the public engaged to learn about birds and helping their environment.”

Helping to improve wildlife habitat, the small group of volunteers collected 360 pounds of litter in about two hours. They filled up several bags of trash; removed items like a cat tower, swimming pool and folding chairs; and sorted the waste, separating recyclables like metal cans and plastic bottles.

“Wildlife thrives in natural habitat and that is habitat that doesn’t have any man-made items in it,” Plimpton said. “If you start having areas that have a lot of trash and items from your yards, wildlife and birds can either get tangled up, get hurt or die.”

Volunteer clean-up
Volunteers Daniel Kelch and Cassie Bray tag team their trash collection efforts during the Great Backyard Bird Count and Trash-Off event at Fort Hood, Texas, Feb. 17. Hosted by the post's Adaptive and Integrative Management Team, volunteers collected 360 pounds of trash during the two-hour event. (Photo Credit: Christine Luciano, Fort Hood DPW Environmental) VIEW ORIGINAL

Plimpton further explained the harmful impacts of litter and the adverse effects on aquatic species and wildlife.

“Some of these items can be toxic and can leach chemicals into the water degrading the water quality, which leads to less fish and other organisms and can negatively impact the food chain,” he said. “Birds use a variety of natural materials for building nests and will occasionally get confused and use trash instead of natural material.”

Bray challenged individuals to do their part to respect the environment.

“Everything we use goes into the landfill or the recycle center,” she said. “Think about your actions and how you can minimize your waste and prevent items from ending up where they should not go.”

The event not only helped to remove pollution from an area pond, but also raised awareness about the impact of litter on wildlife and inspired others to take action.

“It was great to see the kids come out and their enthusiasm for nature,” Plimpton said. “Instilling that ethic of protecting wildlife and habitat at a young age can do really great things for the future of environmental protection.