Submitted by Robin Burns

New Project, May 2024:

We are starting a new project, inspired by our community, looking at trail use in the Holyoke Range. Check out this page for more info.

Data Team Update, March 2024:

One project we’re currently working on involves incorporating black bear sightings from our volunteers into a species distribution model. Here’s a bit more on what that means. Right now, we have locations of black bear sightings from volunteers (see this link for what the map looks like!). Ideally, we want to use these sightings to predict the probability that a bear is in a given location. For instance, if we take a look at that map, we have very few sightings in Cape Cod, so we would assign a very low probability of bears to that area. Models allow us to get these probabilities in a formal way. 

The challenge with modeling volunteer sightings is that they are influenced both by where bears are and by where volunteers are. The below density plot looks at the distribution of forest cover at MassBears sightings. We have the fewest sightings in areas with the highest forest cover (the density of sightings dips when proportion of forest cover = 1). This is probably because volunteers are less likely to spend most of their time in heavily forested areas, and not because bears don’t like forests. There aren’t many methods that have been developed to deal with this feature in volunteer data, so we’re experimenting with new ways to correct for the influence of volunteer presence on the distribution of MassBears sightings. 

This model will allow us to understand black bear distribution in Massachusetts at a much broader scale than other field collection methods. We can answer questions about the extent to which the black bear population is expanding eastward, and how likely bears are to spend time in areas with greater housing density. Our results will also inform the modeling work of other community science projects looking at species distributions around the world. This research would not be possible without your continued contribution to the project! Feel free to reach out to with further questions about how we are using volunteer sightings. 

Education Team Update, March 2024:

The education team has been busy this year completing a variety of projects, developing new lesson plans, and collaborating with a new cohort of local teachers. One focus has been updating and creating lesson plans to include a variety of new activities, including many that are outdoors. A goal with updating lesson plans and resources is to further engage students in exploring science and the local ecosystems present around them. Another recent accomplishment was that we translated all of our materials into Spanish to create a bilingual curriculum that is currently available to our teachers and recently were able to participate in the Caminantes Program story hour in Spanish. Finally, we recently welcomed a new cohort of eight local educators and two community organizations which has been an exciting way to connect with new students and introduce them to MassMammals.

Education Team Update, November 2023:

Exciting news alert! Several undergraduate members of our MassMammals Education Team (Elizabeth Zhang, Calista Hundley, Zachary Watson, Fariya Farah, Sarah Bunnell, and Dr. Thea Kristensen) recently submitted and published a paper to the journal Science Education titled “Learning by doing: A multi-level analysis of the impact of citizen science education.

The paper explores some of our team’s findings about the impact of implementing citizen/community science activities in suburban and rural 5th and 9th-12th grade classrooms in Massachusetts, and the important role that community science can play in young students’ scientific education journeys. You can read the abstract below. If you would like to read the paper in its entirety, visit this link or send us an email

Thank you to our volunteers as always for all of your support! Creation and continuation of this project relies on each of you, which in turn allows us to create more learning opportunities for local K-12 students and budding community scientists in MA and beyond.

Education Team Update, September 2023:

Our project was recently featured in an article by the Daily Hampshire Gazette. The article calls attention to our education team’s efforts in putting together lessons for local schools to get community scientists of all ages involved in our research. Making information about mammals and bears available to the public (including young students) is what citizen science is all about! We thank these news outlets for helping us spread the word! Check it out to find out more about our education efforts and the impacts that our volunteers make.

Students from Smith Academy in Hatfield, MA remove the image card from their trail camera as part of a lesson in collaboration with MassMammals.

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Thank you as always for all your support! For more regular updates about our project, sign up for our monthly newsletter by emailing us at! You can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook @MassMammalsWatch.