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BioBlitz! survey finds flora and fauna large and small, very small

HULBERT — On her table set up in a meeting hall at Sequoyah State Park, scattered with short sticks and rocks and bits of dirt, Crys Davis stared at what looked like green spaghetti on her laptop for answers.

Next to it, an attached cord led to a small digital microscope, a device that looked like a small flashlight on a little stand pointing down at a bit of moss on the table. Asked to explain, she moved the microscope to a new position.

“See what this looks like now?” she asked, pointing to the laptop with what now looked like a bland photo of a plate of spiral-cut zucchini.

“Now watch,” she said.

She spritzed a small amount of water under the microscope and the view came to life. The spirals unraveled, the overall view burst with green. Now it looked more like someone’s damp lawn — mostly grass, but a few broad-leafed plants as well.

This dime-sized view of brownish spirals suddenly revealed at least two species of moss, a tiny example of what went on in a big way at the park from 4 p.m. Friday to 4 p.m. Saturday as a record 450 citizen scientists and biologists participated in BioBlitz! Oklahoma 2019, an annual 24-hour volunteer biological survey that covers a piece of Oklahoma. They picked apart the park’s landscape, waters to skies, and documented 881 species including fungi, fish, trees and birds.

Among the bits of moss, Davis even found tiny insects that were added to the count.

“What’s neat about this event is just how much everyone can learn,” she said.

This was the 19th such event, the first of which involved “a couple dozen” biologists, according to Tony Stancampiano, a biology professor from Oklahoma City University who has directed the mammalogy crew every year.

In 2001, he and his then-9-year-old daughter,attended the event. This year, Three Rivers Nature Center naturalist Angelina Stancampiano was a co-coordinator for the event at the park where she works. She and her father have attended every event.

“It’s kind of come full circle. It’s so awesome,” she said. “And I get to keep the inventory, which is wonderful. When people come here I can tell them, ‘You know Sequoyah State Park has over 800 species of flora and fauna.’ All these experts have come out and identified these things. To hire people to do that would be ridiculous, but they have come willingly and donated their time and their talent to identifying all these things.”

BioBlitz Oklahoma is organized by the Oklahoma Biological Survey, which is both a state agency and a department of the University of Oklahoma and serves as the state’s storehouse of biological information.

The BioBlitz is less a scientific exercise and more a community outreach and education event, according to organizer Pricilla Crawford, conservation biologist with the survey.

“We’re inspiring people and showing them that Oklahoma needs biodiversity protection,” she said.

Along with the count, the event includes dozens of walks through the area and talks led by the experts who come to the area and lend their expertise to the count. The citizen scientists, who may be anyone from an experienced lifetime bird watcher to a child with sharp eyes and a willingness to point things out, collect the information and bring the toughest ones to the attention of the experts.

The count has evolved both in its outreach and its methods, Tony Stancampiano said.

This year, for example, the digital microscope helped with identifying mosses and one of the ornithologists brought a special microphone that allowed the crew to listen to the sky at night.

“Birds have nocturnal flight calls, and when they are migrating over, they will make these species-specific chirps that we can hear,” explained Jeremy Ross, an ornithologist with the Survey.

Nature enthusiasts Kathy Harding of Broken Arrow and Bob Phillips of Tulsa have been to several of the events.

“This was just a great location for anyone in Tulsa,” Harding said. “I go when they have the facilities. I don’t camp unless it’s a Holiday Inn, so last year on the way home from the BioBlitz at Greenleaf State Park, I booked a lakeside cabin here.”

Phillips, who volunteers at Oxley Nature Center in Tulsa, said he appreciates the crowd, the experts and the opportunity to pick up new information he can share with others.

“This has to be the largest collection of citizen scientists in the state,” he said. “It’s exciting to be around so many people who know what they’re talking about.”

Subsurface scanning for Tulsa Race Massacre burial sites to begin Monday

Correction: This story misstated the address for Newblock Park. The story has been corrected.

The search for unknown burial sites from Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre enters a new phase on Monday at a not-so-unknown location.

The Oklahoma Archeological Survey will begin subsurface scanning at 1:30 p.m. Monday afternoon in Oaklawn Cemetery, 1133 E. 11th Street, where records and news accounts indicate at least 18 black victims of the massacre were buried. The exact locations of those burials, and the manner in which they were done, remains something of a mystery, however.

So does the matter of whether more than the 18 were entombed at Oaklawn in the frantic June days following the massacre. Speculation has lingered for nearly a century about the number of people killed in the fighting, and whether all of their bodies were accounted for. Many believe they have not been.

Researchers have identified three areas in the southwest quadrant of Oaklawn for the subsurface scanning. The work is expected to take Monday afternoon and all of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to complete.

Areas in and near Newblock Park, 1414 Charles Page Blvd., and at the former Booker T. Washington park, now known as Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens, 4300 E. 91st St., are also slated for scanning in the weeks ahead.

The scanning is open to the public with certain restrictions related to the technology’s sensitivity: cellphones set to airplane mode or turned off; photography equipment kept at a distance; no loud music or videos.

Also, visitors are reminded the site is a cemetery and care should be given to headstones, museums and graves. Children are to be accompanied by adults and pets must be leashed.

Although the scanning process is generally referred to as “ground-penetrating radar,” other technologies may be employed as well. These include gradiometers, which measure variations in magnetic fields, and electrical resistivity imaging, which produces underground mapping data by measuring resistance to electrical impulses.

In July, Oklahoma Archeological Survey Senior Researcher Scott Hammerstedt explained the different technologies and warned that none will produce instantly recognizable results.

“It’s not going to show an actual skeleton,” he said. “Unless you’re incredibly fortunate. The only time I’ve heard of that actually happening was down in Jamestown, (Virginia), where a guy had a hand-held and he put it right on top of a coffin. He actually got an outline of the bones. That will not happen, unfortunately, with any of the machines we have.”

Last week, members of the committee overseeing the search were told Hammerstedt and his team will need about a month to prepare a report once the scanning is completed.

The search is being conducted under the auspices of Mayor G.T. Bynum’s office.

Federal grant to help with rape kit backlog

OKLAHOMA CITY — A nearly $2.4 million federal grant will allow Oklahoma to test hundreds of rape kits that have been sitting in evidence rooms across the state and to improve response to sexual assault crimes.

During the past couple of years, a task force of victim advocates, law enforcement officers and other stakeholders have been working to reform how sexual assaults are responded to in Oklahoma. An audit of more than 300 law enforcement agencies revealed more than 7,200 untested rape kits statewide.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance recently awarded the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office a Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant. The funding will support several initiatives, including processing some of the untested evidence kits and hiring a victim advocate, officials said.

“Kits are going to be tested, and we’ve taken steps to ensure that this backlog — this really regrettable backlog that was allowed to occur — won’t happen again,” Attorney General Mike Hunter said Friday.

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