Vilas County invasive species coordinator Ted Ritter has accomplished a lot since he first began patrolling the Northwoods for aquatic invasives in 2004. This week, he was recognized for his achievements with an Invader Crusader Award as Wisconsin’s 2012 outstanding government official.
Ritter’s work includes leading the formation of WHIP, the Wisconsin Headwaters Invasives Partnership, a multi-agency cooperative invasive species management area for Vilas and Oneida counties. After learning his partners had nominated him for the award, Ritter said, “It’s wonderful to be recognized for the work, and that my peers put in the effort to nominate me means as much as the award itself.”
WHIP coordinates invasive species efforts around Wisconsin’s highest concentration of lakes by bringing together partners in federal, tribal, state, county, non-profit and private land managers, as well as natural resource education schools. Their accomplishments include a survey over 3,500 acres of privately owned forest lands within Vilas County for the presence of high priority terrestrial invasive plants.
After four years of work with aquatic invasives, Ritter transitioned to a full time position with Vilas County on both terrestrial and aquatics in 2008. In that time, he’s seen a lot change.
“The first couple of years, we didn’t have much state support yet,” explains Ritter, referring to DNR’s AIS grants program that has awarded $19 million to local communities since its inception 2003 and full enactment in 2005. “I didn’t have a lot to work with besides the people of Vilas County, but the outpouring of support was tremendous. The communities and landowners recognized that aquatic invasive species could have a big impact on the local economy.”
Ritter says that support has only increased. He begins each morning on the job with a plan, but it’s usually interrupted by mid-morning. “Each day is organized chaos, because the public constantly brings new issues to my notice. But that’s great, because it means our programs are working and people are paying attention.”
In spite of the chaos, and as beautiful as the lakes and woods of Vilas County are, Ritter doesn’t hesitate when asked about his favorite part of the job. “It’s the people,” he says, “My colleagues, the public, the large variety of people.”
June is Invasive Species Awareness Month. For more information about invasive species, special events, and ways to get involved, visit invasivespecies.wi.gov/awareness. Click here to see the rest of this year’s Invader Crusader Award winners.
(Blog entry written by Debbie Seiler)