Working in the educational outreach branch of conservation can prompt feelings of uncertainty. Do our messages reach the target audience? Is the message clear and easily understood? Most importantly, are we helping people understand how they can help slow the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS)? In short, are we making a difference?
When students living in the lake-rich Northwoods coin phrases like, “Keep our waters great, don’t dump bait,” “AIS, please respect and inspect,” and “Remove it or lose it,” you feel reassured that your message is reaching an important audience.
The annual Northwoods Aquatic Invasive Species Poster Contest was started in 2012 in Oneida County, home to some of Wisconsin’s most popular lakes, by Oneida County’s Land and Water Conservation Department. The goal was to engage students in fourth through 12th grades in raising awareness of AIS and the problems the invaders pose for the students’ lake-rich county.
Based on its initial success, the contest expanded to include the students from Elcho, Langlade County in the second year. Now, the contest has expanded again to include the nine counties generally encompassing Wisconsin’s Northwoods. “Aquatic invasive species don’t recognize county lines, so we decided the poster contest shouldn’t either,” explained Michele Sadauskas, Oneida County AIS coordinator.
Each year, one winner and two runners-up are honored in each age group. First place contestants win a medal, a lake book for their school library and an award ceremony for their classroom. The ceremony includes the awarding of the medal, treats for the entire class, and a question-and-answer session on invasive species with the local AIS team.
“The benefits of the contest don’t end with raising student awareness,” Sadauskus says. Student slogans and posters have become centerpieces in efforts to raise AIS awareness among boaters and anglers. Posters and slogans have appeared on real estate style signs, at boat landing kiosks and in presentations. The posters and slogans have been adopted for AIS prevention programs by individual lake associations, some of which are supported by DNR grants for AIS education, prevention and planning projects. Rhinelander television station WJFW broadcast a visit to a fifth-grade classroom when students were preparing posters for the contest and further spread AIS awareness. Sadauskas said, “The kids loved it!”
This spring while attending an awards ceremony for a State Land and Water Poster contest, a young student approached Sadauskas and said, “You came to our classroom last year for the AIS poster contest because the winning poster came from my class. Do you remember Mrs. Hunter’s class?” The student then asked about this year’s contest.
Michele smiled, “This is when you know you have made a difference.”
Winners for 2013 in the 4th-6th grade division:
First - David York
Second- Hannah Hoffhein
Third - Vincent Strong
Winners for 2013 in the 7th-9th grade division:
First- Maggie Laurence
Second – Niki Lee
Third – Daniel Lundquist