REI Excursions to “Discover Life”

Hi Nolan,

I was recently elected to the board of directors for Discover Life in America, the non-profit responsible for the Great Smoky Mountains N.P. All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI).

I understand our executive director recently reached out to REI concerning sponsorship opportunities.

Given the volatile nature of the Federal budget, DLIA has relied on financial contributions from local businesses to maintain operational stability. I’m hoping that a financial contribution supporting DLIA will be possible for the Knoxville REI at some point, but I realize the Knoxille REI is already heavily invested in supporting the Legacy Parks Foundation and the Urban Wilderness.

However, I have an idea in my mind that REI might offer a more valuable contribution than dollars: national name recognition and access to an established market of great outdoors enthusiasts.

I wonder if you have a moment that I could stop by and run a few ideas by you?

For example, I know that REI does expeditions across the nation and globally.

As the ATBI wraps up in the Smokies after 15 years with 931 species new to science and 7,799 species new to the Park, we’re shifting gears to apply the lessons learned in the Smokies to a Global Biodiversity Census.

The idea is because we know how to do an ATBI in the Smokies, with almost 20K species and thousands of hours donated by volunteer citizen scientists, we can- and should- do an ATBI anywhere, particularly in our nation’s protected areas.

A problem is while we’re well-known locally, we’re only just starting to build name-recognition outside the biodiversity science community.

I think partnerships and collaborations with established brands will be key to changing that, and so does the board. We’ve recently formed a partnership with the E.O Wilson Foundation, and National Geographic is sponsoring an upcoming "bio-blitz" expedition, but countless potential stakeholders have never heard of an all-taxa biodiversity inventory.

This is unfortunate, since there’re more parks and protected areas we don’t operate in, and likely hundreds if not thousands of species waiting to be discovered

Here’s where I envision REI might come in. I am wondering if a there’s a potential partnership where individuals participating in REI’s guided hikes and expeditions collect basic environmental data as part of a DLIA-themed citizen science program.

I realize REI expedition participants didn’t sign up to be citizen-scientists, but the value from a research perspective is excellent. Simple data points like water pH, temperature, light levels, tree bud burst or fall color, or soil moisture would be easy to collect, yet immensely valuable to understanding environmental changes in natural systems.

For example, this 4 day backpacking trip <> in the Smokies could offer valuable insights into environmental conditions on the Appalachian Trail, already part of the Appalachian Trail "Maine to Georgia" environmental monitoring study <​>.

I imagine it’d be an outreach win for REI in showing support for fundamental biodiversity research, and a win for expedition participants by participating in the science leading to better understanding of our cherished protected areas.

From a branding perspective, I think it’d bolster REI’s "green" credentials while introducing new stakeholders nationwide- even globally – to Discover Life’s mission and brand.

In an ideal scenario, participants will take the idea of an ATBI back home with them and start asking why their park or protected area hasn’t been inventoried yet. And that’s how it starts: the desire for a comprehensive inventory was the first step to discovering 931 species new to science and 7,799 species new to the Park in the Smokies.

Would your schedule permit that I stop by the store sometime to brainstorm with you about how to pursue a branding opportunity / collaboration with REI that might take shape regionally, or perhaps even nationally?

On a less ambitious note, I’m interested in chatting with you about idea for how DLIA might work with the local REI – and perhaps the Asheville REI – to promote citizen science and scientific discovery in our own backyard.



Tanner M. Jessel
Information Technology Specialist
Center for Renewable Carbon

The University of Tennessee
Institute of Agriculture
Center for Renewable Carbon
Mail: 2506 Jacob Drive
865-946-1162 (o)
865-946-1109 (f)


About Tanner Jessel

I am a recent M.S. in Information Science graduate from the University of Tennessee School of Information Science. I was formerly a graduate research assistant funded by DataONE (Data Observation Network for Earth). Prior, I worked for four years as a content lead and biodiversity scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Biodiversity Informatics Program. Building on my work experience in biodiversity and environmental informatics, my work with DataONE focused on exploring the nature of scientific collaborations necessary for scientific inquiry. I also conducted research concerning user experience and usability, and assisted in development of member nodes with an emphasis on spatial data and infrastructure. I assisted with research designed to understand sociocultural issues within collaborative research communities. Through August 1, 2014, I was based at the Center for Information and Communication Studies at the University of Tennessee School of Information Science in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Posted on March 23, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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