Having City Nature Challenge In April Is Silly


I live in Chicago. It’s snowing right now and will be generally cold and miserable this entire weekend. What is the point of having this “challenge” at a time of the year when a large swath of the Northern Hemisphere is just now turning green and insects have only barely begun to emerge? Why is this not held in the middle of summer, when the weather is more cooperative and kids are out of school?

I’m an insect ecologist, and my lab doesn’t even bother to set traps out until May. Talking with some of my colleagues yesterday, we were all aware of this event but nobody was planning to participate because of how poorly implemented it is with the practicalities of our regional climate. I’m sure April is lovely in San Fran and LA, but maybe consider those of us not in California?

Someone who won’t be able to participate this year despite wanting to


This would be something to discuss with the City Nature Challenge organizers. While CNC uses the iNaturalist platform, we (the iNat staff) aren’t officially involved in organizing it. My understanding though is this has been extensively debated on their end as there’s no date thats optimal everywhere…


Well, I tried their contact form, but it gave an error message.

I can’t imagine any scenario where April is considered optimal for a global biodiversity challenge where 90% of the participating cites are Northern Hemisphere or tropical. Perhaps someone involved with the planning can enlighten me?


Weather isn’t cooperative for Texas in the middle of the summer. I’d rather have a heat stroke. I don’t think you can appease the whole world’s weather with a global event…


I agree that the timing is not great for a number of places in the Northern Hemisphere. Even here in north-central New Mexico, which is warmer than Chicago, May would be a better month than April since it can still be wintry this month (although it isn’t this weekend) with little activity by both animals and plants. Granted it can get pretty hot in some parts by May, but these are supposed to be events for naturalists (who shouldn’t complain) … do it on a more optimal phenological schedule!

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The timing may be awful for most of the far north, but it’s also a risky time for us in the southern U.S. or the Tropics, where the average high is getting up to 90 (F) degrees.


I’m by Chicago too… watching the snow fall. Kind of pretty, but not appreciated this late in the season! Three to eight inches last I heard. Even yesterday when it was warm there was almost no insect activity. All I’m going to be able to contribute to the challenge are some bird pics from the yard.

I imagine one of the reasons for picking this time of year is the proximity to Earth Day. Unfortunately, there are always a ton of activities for Earth Day that all fall on the same two weekends every spring. Things like the City Nature Challenge, big recycling events, preserve and stream cleanup events, native plant sales, and other Earth Day celebrations. There’s a lot of overlap in the atendees for these activities so they just compete with each other. Quite often here the weather is pretty crappy for all these events anyways. Usually it’s more rain and cold strong winds than heavy snow though!

I’m not sure how these new iNat project types work as far as server load. If it is just a matter of aggregating and displaying the data, why not just keep the project tally going for the whole year and have the annual event end on Earth Day or the end of the calendar year? Less exciting than just one weekend? Seems more impressive to me to have annual totals.


i brought this up two years ago and got shot down. The bottom line is the only place that is at peak phenology now, probably on the whole planet really, is California (and maybe Italy? Other mediterranean climates are in the southern hemisphere). And that’s why the CNC happens in April, I think. Made a lot of sense when it was SF vs LA (except it favors SF, LA is better a few weeks earlier). But i do hope they consider moving it even just a month later. California already has lots of participation and a month later would allow way more northern hemisphere cold areas to participate. and i don’t think any snowy southern hemisphere areas are involved or in the least it’s a tiny proportion of the population because of how the continents are arranged. Yes it might suck for Texas and Arizona but really, mid to late May would allow a LOT more people to participate. Sad.

The obvious solution would be to break it into a few different events. April for California, the Southeast etc. July for the colder parts of the northern hemisphere. I am guessing October is probably better for South Africa and New Zealand and for somewhere in the southern hemisphere January is probably good. That would reduce the crushing server load too.

I’ve never pushed for one in Vermont. It’s literally 39 and raining at our house, if you go up 1000 feet higher it’s snow, no trees are leafed out, barely any plants are even sprouted, birds aren’t too active, negligible insects, no fungi, the herps are awake so there’s that but… yeah, literally pointless. If it were any time from May through October (yeah it gets cold in October but there are plant remnants and such) I’d try to get one going here.


I think it is more about building community, and so splitting the event up over the year is maybe viewed as detrimental to that goal. It’s not great timing for NZ, but it’s still very effective as an opportunity to get iNatters together and strengthening networks that have been forming throughout the year. I joined iNat 4 years ago, and communicate almost on a daily basis with many others but have never met them face to face. I nearly was able to make the trip to Christchurch for ours, and for me the driving factor to going was the opportunity to meet rather than the opportunity to observe… although it is a very close second!


As the Chicago organizer last year, I voted for May! Sorry!


Actually…if it were split up, and well coordinated, it could form sort of a CNC World Circuit, and distribute the load of CNC on the servers as well! It would provide opportunities to meet internationally, as well as a fun and exciting way to see the world!


I agree it ought to be staggered. DE this time of year can be hit or miss, but in general, there’s a lot to see (though today was ridiculously windy). In northern Pa, where I’m originally from, there’s a forecast for snow tomorrow. Mid to late May would work better there and would not be bad for DE yet either.

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I agree. Maybe it should be divided up between hemispheres. Of course the tropics would have a huge advantage in actual biodiversity but success depends much on number of participants and Chicago would have a built-in advantage there with it’s large population. I’m a current participant btw in Tena, Ecuador.


Tena is rocking the CnC this year, despite having a smaller survey area than most. Very exciting. Do you have times of year that are better or worse there?


I think staggering it would help out with the server issues and the overwhelming amount of IDs as well


Hi everyone - I’m one of the two main organizers of the CNC. We put CNC dates up for a vote with all our local organizers. This weekend won for this year, based on voting from the 2018 organizers. And there is a fun collaborative feeling too that many people enjoy by everyone around the world doing this together at the same time.

But I do love the idea of multiple CNCs arranged throughout the year for optimal seasonality, or at least two 6 months apart in spring/fall for our friends in the southern hemisphere who are currently in fall and would love to do it in spring. We’ve talked about it many many times.

However, we run the City Nature Challenge on ZERO funding. And it is an incredible amount of work for the two of us - we started working with local organizers in August 2018 to prepare for this year’s CNC. And it’s just one of the many many things we do in our jobs. Coordinating multiple big CNC events just isn’t possible for us right now.

If someone can find some people to organize and host other CNCs throughout the year, please send them our way!

For now, you can check out the CNC North America Dfa/Dfb Climates project - the local organizers in these northern cities are being good spirited and making the best of it by competing against each other, which is great!


Its a crazy year also in south central New Mexico we received around 5 ins of slush
Above 8000 feet the other day
Thank about a mess


thanks for the response. But while i’m a field ecologist who goes out in all conditions, it’s still real hard to make it fun when it’s actual hypothermia conditions, which they were today, especially when there’s also nothing to identify. Seems you’d get a few tens of millions more people able to participate if you just knocked it back two or three weeks. Otherwise it just feels California focused and not for anyone in a cold area. Hope you’d consider it at least! I’d love to have a Vermont one happen but really, maybe you’ve lived in a place like this but otherwise, you really won’t be able to understand… honestly this is the most miserable time of year. In January it’s cold but there is snow tracking, xc skiing, etc. right now you just really can’t get people outside, and someone could legit die if they weren’t careful in 39 degree rain, too. you might get a few less california plants in May but forensic botany is still doable there, i’ve done it.


What are the disadvantages of having this event during, say, early or mid June, when most parts of the Northern Hemisphere are near their peak biodiversity? Seems like there are only a couple Southern Hemisphere cities that it would be negatively impacting (which could be fixed by giving them their own CNC during their summertime). I’d think the goal of this should be to get as many people observing as many species as possible, which is far from the case right now. Even if it was sunny and warm in Chicago today, there’s hardly anything to observe compared to what will be out a month or two from now.

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I thought part of the original choice of April was that is centered around Earth Day and the intent was to get community involved. I have no problem if the dates are changed. Just my my thought o the choice of data originally.