Starry Stonewort: Up-And-Coming AIS of Wisconsin

Post by Bradley Steckart, Waukesha and Washington County AIS Coordinator; adapted by Sara Fox, UW-Extension

Starry Stonewort (Nitellopsis obtusa) has made a name for itself in Wisconsin as a well-known invasive species. Questions surrounding its unknown impacts and the viability of its reproductive bulbils have researchers, scientists, and volunteers interested in this relatively new invader. N. obtusa is a prohibited aquatic invasive species currently present in four Wisconsin counties. Here’s what you need to know about starry stonewort: 

What is it?

Starry stonewort is a freshwater macroalgae native to Europe and western Asia. While it is classified as invasive in the Midwest, it is listed as endangered in its native habitat. You might confuse starry stonewort with native stonewort (Chara spp.) or muskgrass (Nitella spp.) and pondweeds such as sago pondweed. 

You can identify starry stonewort by it’s bright green branches that grow in whorls of 4-6 around the stem. It is named after its small, white, star-shaped reproductive structures called bulbils. These bulbils reside 1-3 inches deep in the sediment and act as an anchor for the alga. Starry stonewort is dioecious, meaning that male and female reproductive structures grow on seperate algal stalks. Currently, only males are present in the United States indicating that reproduction is only occurring asexually by bulbil production.

The star-shaped reproductive structure of starry stonewort is called a bulbil. Credit – Paul Skawinski

How might it affect me?

Like many other invasive species, starry stonewort holds potential to outcompete native vegetation and alter the ecosystem of the waterbody where it is introduced. Starry stonewort grows into dense vegetative mats that can interfere with recreational water activities like tubing or water skiing. Large patches of starry stonewort may also threaten fish spawning habitat. However, those impacts are inferred from the impacts of other invasive aquatic plants. The specific effects of starry stonewort on fisheries is largely unknown and is currently under investigation by leading scientists.

As always, it is beneficial to take preventative measures to avoid spreading starry stonewort and other aquatic invasive species to and from your lake.

Starry stonewort can outcompete native plant species in a waterbody. Credit – Paul Skawinski

What does this mean for Wisconsin Lakes?

Manual and chemical control methods have been used to treat starry stonewort with varying success. However, boaters and anglers can take individual action to prevent the spread by following Wisconsin DNR AIS prevention steps:

INSPECT your watercraft vehicles and trailers for plant fragments upon exit and entrance to a waterbody. Pay special attention to anchors and footwear where bulbils might reside. Hunters should make sure to inspect duck decoys and blinds.

DRAIN water from your boat. This includes livewells, motors, and bait containers filled with water from the waterbody you’re exiting.

REMOVE all attached plants from your watercraft vehicles and trailers.

NEVER MOVE plants or water among waterbodies. Not only is this effective, but enforced by Wisconsin law.

For more information on starry stonewort, check out WDNR or UWEX Lakes resources.

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Lakes and Rivers Grant Story Map

Ever wonder where DNR grants go? Wonder no longer! Ben Kort (GIS Specialist) and Ali Mikulyuk (Statewide Rivers, Lakes Grant Coordinator), of the Water Quality Program’s Lakes and Rivers Section, recently finished an online story map to provide detailed information to the public on the state’s Rivers and Lakes Grant Program. This story map tool is an interactive tool created with ArcGIS Online that displays projects funded by the department’s Surface Water Grant program in 2018. This story map is a great way for people to learn about projects funded statewide that protect and/or improve their favorite lake or river.

There are 211 projects located in 62 Wisconsin counties depicted on the map, representing $6.2 million dollars in local or regional funding to improve water quality, reduce runoff, create aquatic habitat, and target aquatic invasive species. This new interactive map, provides a visual representation of the work funded by the program’s grant dollars. You can filter the map by grant type, county, and legislative area and find information about the department’s grant funding programs and supported projects.

Explore the story map and learn more about the Surface Water Grants Program.

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Protecting Wisconsin’s Hunting Tradition

Post by Jeanne Scherer, AIS Outreach Specialist for UW-Extension and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; adapted by Sara Fox 

As summer winds down and a hint of color change is showing up in the leaves, Wisconsin’s hunters prepare to take to the waters for the 2018 waterfowl hunting season on opening weekend, September 29-30. This season marks the third year of Waterfowl Hunter Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Outreach efforts, where teams of DNR staff, statewide AIS Partners and volunteers station themselves at access points to talk to hunters about what they can do to stop the spread of AIS. You may have encountered AIS outreach at hunting sites before. This year, watch for volunteers and partners at the Mead Wildlife Area, Big Muskego, Horicon Marsh, along the Mississippi River, and in multiple counties across the state.

Waterfowl Hunter AIS outreach is modeled after the successful Clean Boats Clean Waters (CBCW) program that reaches boaters all summer long at boat landings in Wisconsin.  Waterfowl inspectors will conduct a hunting version of the CBCW survey and talk with them about specific aspects of duck hunting that risk AIS movement. Mud, for example, can hide seeds, the bulbils of starry stonewort, and the eggs or larvae of tiny invaders like spiny waterfleas. A threat of particular concern to the hunters is the faucet snail. These snails carry intestinal flukes that can kill thousands of ducks if they eat them.

AIS can get stuck in hunting gear, like this starry stonewort on a decoy. Credit- Brad Steckart.

Hunters who talk with inspectors are given a collectible bird band stamped with the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers logo as a thank you for taking action to protect their favorite hunting sites. Since the hunters traditionally wear their duck bands as a collectible, the band also serves as a reminder to stop the spread of AIS.

Duck bands with the SAH! logo serve as a reminder to stop the spread of AIS.

Just a few minutes of preventative action can protect our hunting tradition for generations to come. Before launching into and leaving a waterbody, hunters must:

Inspect waders, boats, trailers, motors and hunting equipment, including boots, blinds and dogs.

Remove all plants, animals and mud.

Drain all water from decoys, boats, motors, livewells and other hunting equipment.

Never move plants or live fish away from a water body.

A special consideration for waterfowl hunters is to remove all seed heads and roots when using vegetation for your duck blinds. It is important to note that it is illegal to use phragmites in counties where the plant is listed as prohibited by NR40, in general these counties include the western half of Wisconsin.

For more information contact Jeanne Scherer, AIS Outreach Specialist, at jeanne.scherer@ces.uwex.edu.

For more information about aquatic invasive species, including where they are prohibited and restricted, in Wisconsin, visit this WDNR webpage.

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Protecting Wisconsin’s Water Resources for All a Top Priority

Guest Column by Daniel Meyer, Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

August is National Water Quality Month, providing an opportunity to highlight the ongoing work by Governor Walker’s administration to protect the precious water resources we have in Wisconsin. Under the Governor’s leadership, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has good news to report.

More than 99 percent of the state’s public water systems provided water that met safe drinking water standards, according to our 2017 Annual Drinking Water Report. Monitoring is a critical part of the strategy. DNR and its partners conducted more than 2,600 inspections of public water systems to ensure compliance with construction, operation and maintenance requirements.

Daniel Meyer, Secretary, Wisconsin DNR

To address a critical health issue, the DNR, working with the EPA, initiated a funding plan that provided nearly $27 million to 42 Wisconsin communities over a 2-year period to assist them in replacing lead service lines at homes, schools and daycare facilities. More than $6 million went to Milwaukee alone to replace an estimated 1,000 lead service lines. This reflects a major investment by the state in the health and safety of residents across Wisconsin.

Water quality issues in northeast Wisconsin, particularly Kewaunee County, have been developing for decades. This administration, through the DNR, was the first to commission scientific research to get at the root of the problem in order to find solutions.

The DNR facilitated a Kewaunee Groundwater Work Group in 2016 that brought together interested parties from all sides of the issue. As a result of the group’s report, Wisconsin DNR revised the administrative rule known as N.R. 151 that will strengthen nonpoint source pollution performance standards. That revised rule was implemented July 1.

Additionally, the DNR samples rivers, lakes and streams every year. This information is used to identify which are healthy and need to be protected and which should be added to the biennial impaired waters list – most due to decades of pollution – so a restoration plan can be developed. According to the Water Quality Report we submitted to EPA on April 1, 2018- 82% of the assessed waters are healthy. Through a variety of pollution reduction and mitigation efforts, thirty-five (35) water bodies will be removed from the Impaired Waters list this year. That’s the most to be removed since 2010.

More than 159,000 lake acres were removed from the fish consumption advisory for PCBs. This is one of the largest fish consumption de-listings since 2008.

Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) studies are one tool we use to identify pollution reductions needed to meet water quality standards and restore the health of our valued waterbodies. TMDL studies have been established for several large river basins already: the Rock, the St. Croix/Red Cedar, the Lower Fox and the Milwaukee River basins. New restoration plans are in the works for the Wisconsin River and Upper Fox/Wolf River basins.

Everyone wants clean, safe water. Water is essential to our health and well-being. It can be taken for granted as we go about our daily lives. Fortunately, Governor Walker’s administration, through the DNR, has worked proactively to ensure Wisconsin has clean, safe water now and in the future.

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