A Little Watercraft Inspection Help From YouTube

One of the best ways to help protect Wisconsin waters from aquatic invasive species is by being a watercraft inspector with the Clean Boats, Clean Waters program. Watercraft inspectors are trained to organize and conduct a boater education program in their community. Both adult and youth teams work with boaters to learn how invasive species are most likely to hitch a ride into waterbodies. Inspectors perform boat and trailer checks for invasive species, distribute informational brochures and collect and report any new waterbody infestations.

According to Erin McFarlane, CBCW educator for the University of Wisconsin Extension Lakes program, inspectors are trained to tailor their conversation with boaters according to situation. “There are many different variables that an inspector needs to observe in order to best reach the boater. Is the boater entering or leaving a waterbody? Is the waterbody invaded or uninvaded? Is this the first time the boater is being inspected, or have they visited with an inspector multiple times during the season? All of these can factor into having a meaningful conversation with a boater.”

It’s no secret that practice makes perfect, and experienced watercraft inspectors will find this tailored conversation approach to be second nature. But what about the new inspectors? To help, McFarlane worked with the Wisconsin DNR video production crew and current watercraft inspectors to produce a set of training videos that cover common inspection scenarios.

The videos can be viewed on the UW-Extension Lakes website, and in the short amount of time they have been available they have already been utilized in Clean Boats Clean Waters trainings. McFarlane hopes that they will continue to help inspectors feel comfortable doing inspections. “We want to empower lake lovers to take action to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species in Wisconsin, and we’re confident that utilizing new technologies and formats like these training videos will help us do just that.”


Thanks to Dane County, Walworth County, Golden Sands Resource Conservation and Development, and Wisconsin Sea Grant for assisting with the filming of this video.


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Phragmites in Wisconsin: Moving the Leading Edge

This is post #2 in a series of Phragmites in Wisconsin. Read the previous post, “Location, Location, Location,” to set the stage for this entry.

“We got a lot of work done last year on slowing the spread of non-native Phragmites,” said Jason Granberg, water resources management specialist for the Wisconsin DNR. “The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding helped us treat 513 Phragmites sites, spread over 18 counties, that totaled 41.48 acres of land. No small task.” Jason would know – as part of his responsibilities he is managing the treatment work that is being done under this GLRI grant awarded to the Wisconsin DNR.

Given Phragmites tendency to move along roadways, a lot of Phragmites monitoring can be done from the car. Credit: Jason Wilke.

Given Phragmites tendency to move along roadways, a lot of Phragmites monitoring can be done from the car. Credit: Jason Wilke.

A lot of effort led to treating these pioneer populations (isolated populations outside of an established range) of non-native Phragmites. Brock Woods, the wetland invasive species specialist for the DNR and the UW-Extension, identified the opportunity to push the Phragmites invasion front back based on years of monitoring its spread. “Phragmites populations first invaded the Lake Michigan coast, then ditches along major highways in the eastern part of Wisconsin,” Woods explained. “From there it has been moving west, mostly along east-west roads.  These new, small, isolated western populations represent the invasion front, and the period of time to eliminate these stands and keep this harmful invader out of most of the state is short.”

The DNR made a strong case for federal GLRI funding to be made available to control this invasive species within the Great Lakes basin, with strong preference for treating pioneer populations and small infestations threatening ecologically sensitive areas. The US Fish and Wildlife Service agreed and the DNR was awarded $220,000 for the project.

While Woods suspected there were relatively few non-native Phragmites stands across central and western Wisconsin, little was known about their specific locations. The first part of the project consisted of locating and mapping these stands. “This was a big task,” reflected Granberg. “But by tapping existing databases such as EDDMAPS and GLEDN and getting information from partners throughout the state with interest in the project, we were able to identify most pioneer populations.” After confirming the sites to be non-native Phragmites, other background work included ensuring that no threatened native species would be harmed while treating the invader, and getting landowner permissions.

Most treatment sites were in roadside ditches, and many were within the road rights-of-way, making them treatable with highway department permits. However, many stands also existed further onto private lands, necessitating landowner permission before treatments could begin. In some places the Phragmites had dispersed away from roads and into interior wetlands, in some cases entirely on private lands. The current status of Phragmites as a restricted species under NR-40 meant that the DNR could not require landowners to treat a population, but only encourage treatment. Granberg and Woods reached out to landowners to explain the project, and most were very interested in having the DNR try to control this invasive species on their land to both protect against reduced property values, as well as prevent spread to neighbors’ lands and the rest of the state.

Treatments began after selecting a qualified contractor from submitted bids. And as the contractor worked, Jason and Brock conferred with him regularly, they visited treated sites where problems occurred and received regular reports. Most planned sites were treated, but some had to be left for 2015 due to early frosts.

Small populations of Phragmites may not seem like much, but eliminating pioneer populations like this one are important for keeping Phragmites out of western Wisconsin. Credit: Jason Wilke.

Small populations of Phragmites may not seem like much, but eliminating pioneer populations like this one are important for keeping Phragmites out of western Wisconsin. Credit: Jason Wilke.

Granberg and Woods are both excited about continuing to fight non-native in 2015 and 2016. Remaining GLRI funding will allow follow-up treatments where necessary, as well as treating newly reported and high priority pioneer populations in both the Lake Michigan basin and (recently added) Lake Superior basin counties. Nonnative Phragmites becomes easier to identify in the winter and early spring, so they hope anyone with unmanaged stands of what they believe to be the invader will contact them with good plant and location information. And wherever non-native Phragmites is eliminated, opportunities for restoring native wetland plants and animals exist. “This can all lead to healthier and more functional ecosystems in Wisconsin,” Woods summarized, “It’s a worthy goal for all invasive species control.”

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Phragmites in Wisconsin: Location, Location, Location

Depending on where you are in Wisconsin, you may have heard of non-native Phragmites. In most of western Wisconsin, it’s a plant you might only recognize from an invasive species watch list. If you are in the far eastern part of the state, you would probably recognize it as a tall grass with a large, brown, feathery plume, and can be seen in many roadside ditches. In fact, if you happen to own property along western Green Bay, you almost certainly know it as the reason why you can no longer see the Bay, or why it may be difficult to use your dock.

Some nonnative phragmites stands are so dense they need to be treated by helicopter. (credit: Virginia State Parks CC)

Some nonnative phragmites stands are so dense they need to be treated by helicopter. (credit: Virginia State Parks CC)

Phragmites australis, also known as common reed, is a large perennial grass found throughout temperate and tropical regions around the world. In fact, native Phragmites has been common to the Great Lakes region for thousands of years. Brock Woods, wetland invasive species specialist for the DNR and the University of Wisconsin Extension, had previously known all Phragmites as a natural part of the Wisconsin wetlands. “The strain native to Wisconsin has co-occurred with other plants for many generations,” explains Woods. “It generally grows in low density stands with a diverse array of native organisms.”

However, a European strain of Phragmites (subspecies australis) was observed on the Atlantic coast in the early 1800’s and has been spreading west throughout the country ever since. In Wisconsin, the Lake Michigan coast has been the focal point of this invasive Phragmites. According to Woods, non-native Phragmites likely first arrived along Lake Michigan in the late 1970s. It may have arrived in ballast as free-floating seeds, or root, rhizome and stem fragments. Unfortunately, its many dispersal mechanisms have also allowed it to start spreading north and west across the state, establishing first in roadside ditches through vehicular traffic, construction activities and mowing. This subspecies grows much more densely and often taller than native Phragmites. It outcompetes and eliminates native plants, leaving very poor habitat for any native animals. It also causes undesirable site changes for people, including safety issues along roads and fire hazards from biofuel accumulation, especially along lake shores.

Phragmites australis distribution map 04 06 15 JPEG

The red dots indicate known stands of phragmites. Nonnative phragmites is relatively rare in the west and is abundant in the east. The low density of occurrences in the middle of the state is the invasion from of nonnative phragmites. (figure credit: Jason Granberg)

There is an area of the state where non-native Phragmites populations are still very young and small. This is the plant’s invasion frontline, and it occurs in a north-south tier of counties through which Highways US 51 and I-39/90 run, along with the next tier of counties to the east. Areas east of these central counties are often so infested with Phragmites that significant investment are needed to reduce the impacts of those invasions. Areas to the west have almost no known populations, and education with early removal of new infestations is the tool of choice there. But the counties in this central area represent a manageable invasion front where non-native Phragmites stands are present, but small enough that control work, maybe even elimination, is still feasible with a comprehensive and strategic treatment plan.  Jason Granberg, a water resource management specialist for the DNR, has been implementing just such a plan over the past growing season, and he is excited about the progress made in a few months of work.


Part two will feature the DNR’s Great Lake Restoration Initiative efforts to control pioneer Phragmites populations.

For information on the differences between native and nonnative Phragmites, visit this resource from the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative.

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Petenwell and Castle Rock Lakes: the Power of Teamwork

Petenwell and Castle Rock Lakes are impoundments (man-made lakes) created by damming the Wisconsin River. The lakes are well known for their size and recreational activities. Petenwell Lake spans three different counties and covers 23,173 acres while Castle Rock covers 12,981 acres and touches two counties. In 2008, Petenwell and Castle Rock Stewards or PACRS applied for a DNR to grant to strengthen their organization in order to improve water quality and better protect their lakes from invasive species. Stewards are concerned citizens who love lakes and work to protect their lakes from threats.

Sunset on the lake.  Photo courtesy of Petenwell and Castle  Rock Stewards.

Sunset on the lake. Photo courtesy of Petenwell and Castle Rock Stewards.

With the grant PACRS:

1) reached out to organizations and businesses to garner support for improving lake conditions;

2) produced articles and bylaws by which to run the PACRS organization; and

3) applied for non-profit status from the Internal Revenue Service.

Since receiving their grant, PACRS worked with conservation groups, property associations, area legislators and DNR to address algal blooms, monitor water quality and establish baseline water quality requirements for the lake. For example, in 2009 and 2010, PACRS hosted sessions of Pontoon and Politics where area politicians took pontoon rides to see firsthand the water quality issues and algal blooms impeding enjoyment of the lakes. Also in 2010 PACRS led tours of farms and manufacturers to learn about water quality problems and share their concern and willingness to address them.

A result of PACRS team building is the start of a study with DNR to measure of Petenwell and Castle Rock’s total maximum daily load, known as TMDL. TMDL is the maximum amount of organic and inorganic pollutants a body of water can safely receive and still meet water quality standards. A TMDL incorporates the pollution sources– point or nonpoint – and a margin of safety reflecting the level of uncertainty in the analysis in setting the standard. For Petenwell and Castle Rock Lakes, the TMDL incorporate upstream pollutants deposited into the Wisconsin River and its tributaries. The scale of the effort can be appreciated by watching a video “Flyover of the Wisconsin River” on the PACRS website.

Although the TMDL study is not slated to finish until 2017, PACRS has already worked, with DNR and a paper plant, to implement stricter limits on phosphorus discharge. Phosphorus promotes algal blooms and can impede water quality. Similarly PACRS has reached out to local farmers in collaboration with watershed and river groups to lower the amount of farmland runoff.

The non-profit status obtained by PACRS helped them win a DNR River Planning Grant to help their organization to continue to grow and improve. The grant also allowed PACRS to install a mechanical “profiler” which automatically collects water quality data and sends them to DNR.

More recently, PACRS joined the Clean Boats Clean Waters effort and began boat inspections on both lakes to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

The PACRS team.  Courtesy of the Petenwell and Castle Rock Stewards.

The PACRS team. Courtesy of the Petenwell and Castle Rock Stewards.

PACRS have been successful in taking control of their lakes’ water issues. So successful that the Wisconsin River Alliance awarded PACRS their River Champion Award in 2011. With the support of legislators and DNR, these Stewards will continue to protect their lakes and work for a positive change through collaboration and cooperation and a common cause to protect the natural resource they value dearly.

Entry written by Alyson Douglas, Aquatic Invasive Species Program Assistant.
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