City Nature Challenge 2017: A Win For Urban Nature Across the Country

May 5, 2017

Which city in the United States can observe the most nature? This is the question staff at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and California Academy of Sciences tried to answer a few weeks ago through a nationwide effort called the City Nature Challenge.

Turns out the winning city was Dallas, Texas. Like they say, "Don't mess with Texas!" 

Students from Esperanza Elementary School help us kickoff City Nature Challenge 2017. Photo by Mario de Lopez


Last year, the challenge was brand new and began as a rivalry between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Both cities sit in a biodiversity hotspot, the California Floristic Province, which makes the perfect backdrop for a biodiversity showdown. Although San Francisco was ahead for the majority of the challenge, L.A. made a late comeback thanks in part to our famous mountain lion, P22. All told L.A. and S.F. made almost 20,000 observations engaging 1,018 people, with L.A. beating out San Francisco by only 934 observations.

How could we top that?

Because staff at both museums are ambitious, and because we had so much fun last year, we decided to expand the project for 2017. We put a call out to colleagues and talked about it at geeky museum conferences, and we even tweeted about it. There was a lot of interest from all over the country, with 16 cities signing up. Fifteen of them were really hoping to knock L.A. out of the top spot. After months of planning, people from Seattle to Miami were ready and raring to get started, and the challenged kicked off at 12:01 am the morning of April 14.

Some people were so dedicated they even woke up at midnight to make their first few observations!

Keelback slug spotted by this author (@lhiggins) at 12:06 am April 14


All told the challenge ran five days, and ended at 11:59 pm on April 18. In that 120 hour timeframe, 4051 people banded together and searched for nature in their cities. 

We made some amazing nature discoveries! 

Large bull orca with his mother, picture taken from shore by iNaturalist user @kersti-e-muul 


Someone in Seattle observed a pair of orcas. iNaturalist user @al10, from New York, documented a sunken disk lichen in Central Park. This species of lichen had never been recorded in the park before. Finally, Hunter Yarbrough from Texas found an extremely rare golden-cheeked warbler in Austin. This bird isn't just rare in Texas, it is rare throughout the United States.  

Golden-cheeked warbler observed by iNaturalist user @hunteryarbrough


The wildlife we found was often beautiful and sometimes rare, however, some might say the numbers are even more impressive. Collectively we made 124,092 new wildlife observations of 8557 species. These numbers also represent the five biggest days the iNaturalist community has ever clocked!

...and the winners are:

City with the most observations: Dallas/Fort Worth with 23,957  City with the most species found: Houston with 2419  City with the most participants: Los Angeles with 1034 (also includes people who submitted via social media)

It really goes to show what an impact we can make collectively. Thanks to everyone who participated this year, and stay tuned for next year because the City Nature Challenge is going international!

(Posted by: Lila Higgins )

Want to get updates for the NHMLA Nature Blog sent to your email ?

Sign up below and we'll send you the latest in L.A. Nature!



The Carnivore Next Door

February 7, 2019