Make your ripple effects positive for lakes this boating season

Post by Jenny Seifert, UWEX Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Specialist

Ready for boating and fishing season? Whether you are a die-hard aquaphile or just a weekend warrior, now is a good time to brush up on the things you can do to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) and protect Wisconsin’s waters.

As a social species, our actions have ripple effects. We influence each other, determining collectively what is “normal” behavior. When it comes to stopping aquatic hitchhikers, there are multiple ways our actions can contribute to making cleaning and draining our boats and equipment the thing everyone just does.

Whether you’re an angler, boater or both, your actions to stop aquatic hitchhikers can have positive ripple effects.

Be the change

Your individual actions do make a difference. As such, the most basic thing you can do is be the change – that is, take the prevention steps every time you visit the water and model that behavior to others. Let’s review the steps:

  • INSPECT boats, trailers and equipment.
  • REMOVE all attached aquatic plants and animals.
  • DRAIN all water from boats, vehicles, and equipment, including livewells and buckets containing fish.
  • NEVER MOVE plants or live fish away from a waterbody.
  • DISPOSE of unwanted bait in the trash
  • BUY minnows from a Wisconsin bait dealer. Use leftover minnows only on the same body of water or on other waters as long as no lake or river water or other fish have been added to their container.

Share the message

A Clean Boats Clean Waters volunteer talks with a boater about how he can stop aquatic hitchhikers.

Become a Clean Boats, Clean Waters (CBCW) volunteer and help spread the prevention message to fellow lake lovers. This program trains people to teach or remind boaters at landings about how to prevent aquatic invasive species.

This approach is based solidly in social science, which has shown that interpersonal communication is often the best way to encourage people to practice a new behavior. Such peer-to-peer learning is a hallmark of Wisconsin’s AIS prevention efforts, and it is working! Our data are showing the number of boaters who are aware of the prevention steps is growing as a result of this program.

Your local lake association may already have a CBCW program or, if it doesn’t, you can start your own by applying to a WDNR grant. For more information, visit the CBCW website or contact Erin McFarlane, who coordinates the program.

Mobilize others

If you’re involved in a lake association or just need a way to unleash your passion for protecting lakes, there are a couple of statewide campaigns this summer you can get involved in as a volunteer.

First is the Drain Campaign, which takes place June 9th to 11th and is an effort to increase the number of anglers who consistently drain their livewells and other water-collecting equipment, an important step in preventing the spread of invasive species and fish diseases. The campaign encourages the use of ice as a way to keep one’s fish fresh and tasty, complete with ice pack giveaways to thank anglers for their AIS preventing efforts.

Second is the annual Landing Blitz, a coordinated effort to reach boaters during the busiest boating weekend of the year: the fourth of July (well, this year, it actually takes place from June 30th through July 4th). With so many boaters out on the water – and, for some, this may be their only weekend on a boat all year – this campaign is a great way to reach a lot of people, especially those who may not have already heard the prevention message.

Both campaigns utilize the Clean Boats, Clean Waters method to reach anglers and boaters – that is, volunteers greet them at boat landings.

New to both campaigns this year is an effort to build some online buzz around AIS prevention through social media blitzes. If you use social media, you can help spread the word about the importance of aquatic invasive species prevention by posting photos and messages using the hashtag #JustDrainIt for the Drain Campaign or #CleanBoatsCleanWaters for the Landing Blitz.

If you want to get involved in either campaign, contact your local AIS Coordinator.

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Rarely common and commonly rare, or how a super weed loses its might

Post by Jenny Seifert, UWEX Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Specialist

It turns out an aquatic invasive plant feared by many as a lake-choking menace may not be so universally problematic after all.

The “super weed” in question is Eurasian watermilfoil, or EWM for short, and a decade’s worth of research is dismantling some commonly held beliefs about the non-native plant’s impact on lakes and how to effectively control it.

This mat of Eurasian watermilfoil may look menacing, but it’s actually a rare sight in Wisconsin.

To Michelle Nault, a water resources management specialist with the Wisconsin DNR who is among those studying the plant, one of the most surprising things they’ve found is just how much the amount of EWM can vary within one lake and across lakes in the same region.

In other words, it’s not really behaving in a way that would make an “invasion” inevitable.

“We could be on a lake with relatively dense milfoil one year, and then return to that same exact lake the following year and barely be able to find any it. We observed this even in lakes with no active management,” says Nault, explaining statewide research is important for helping them understand the extent of the problem and making wise management decisions.

But the weed hasn’t lost its might completely, cautions Nault. It can certainly become problematic in some lakes, making it still critical for lake users to always take the basic steps to prevent invasive species – that is, inspect, remove, drain and dry whenever you leave the water.

“There are still many lakes within Wisconsin that do not have Eurasian watermilfoil, and preventing its introduction is much more ecologically and economically cost-effective than dealing with the invader once it’s introduced,” says Nault.

Think you know what’s up with EWM? Read on to test your knowledge against what researchers at the WDNR and elsewhere are finding out.

True or false: EWM has invaded most of Wisconsin’s lakes.

False. The research indicates EWM is “rarely common and commonly rare.” According to Wisconsin’s statewide aquatic invasive species database, fewer than five percent of Wisconsin’s 15,000 lakes contain EWM, and the majority of lakes with public access, particulary those up north, still don’t have a shred of it.

Not only that, most lakes that do contain EWM have just a little bit of it – not even enough for most lake users to consider it a nuisance. For some of these lakes, strategic aquatic plant management helps to keep the non-native plant at bay, while natural conditions seem to be enough to keep it in check in other lakes.

The rare cases of dense EWM populations are most commonly found in reservoirs, not natural lakes, and in more southerly parts of the state, where the species began its invasion decades ago.

True or False: Herbicide treatments are the only way to control EWM effectively.

False. There are many ways to control EWM effectively, and choosing the right method depends on your specific lake and management goals. The toolbox of methods includes pulling it by hand, harvesting it with machines, diver-assisted suction harvesting (a method that entails using hoses to transport pulled plants to the water’s surface for easier removal), drawing down lake levels, and protecting shoreline habitat for weevils that eat the plants (a method called biocontrol). Since several of these methods require a permit, consult the WDNR before you make your management plan.

Can you spot the baby bug? This young weevil will grow up to be biocontrol for EWM.

As for chemical herbicides, they seem to be more effective when EWM is caught early or with purebred Eurasian watermilfoil, but they can also have unintended consequences.

Like most invasive species, EWM is clever about finding ways to claim its new territory. One of its tactics is to hybridize with a common native milfoil species, which has resulted in a variety of milfoil mutts, some of which seem to have a tolerance for herbicides or a knack for growing back quickly after treatments.

Moreover, research is showing the cure may be as bad as or worse than the disease sometimes. Large-scale or long-term herbicide control can potentially harm native plants, fish and other beneficial organisms, necessitating a balancing act between treating the problem and protecting the things we’re trying to protect in the first place.

Ultimately, there is no one size fits all solution to controlling EWM. An adaptive approach, continued research and an acceptance that total eradication may be the unobtainable pot o’ gold can help us make careful management decisions.

True or False: Once EWM invades, it quickly dominates the whole lake.

Sometimes true, but usually false. It turns out it is hard to predict what exactly EWM will do once it gets into a lake, but contrary to long-held beliefs, its population doesn’t always explode upon introduction.

A ten-year study of unmanaged lakes with EWM showed that sometimes the plant remains relatively sparse in a lake, while other lakes experienced an immediate spike in EWM that was followed by a natural drop over time. Still other lakes found equilibrium with their EWM population.

Moreover, year-to-year events like drought or lots of rain – the latter of which can lead to floods or bursts of nutrient runoff – can make annual EWM populations boom or bust.

True or False: Prevention and management are still important for keeping our lakes healthy.

True! (Just checking to make sure you’ve been reading carefully.) The best – and cheapest – way to protect your lake from becoming one of the “commonly rare” is to not allow EWM and other invasive species to get in it. Enter the Inspect, Remove, Drain and Dry mantra.

If EWM does find its way into a new lake, the second best thing is early detection, which can reduce the amount of time and effort spent on trying to control it in the long run. A lake-specific management plan with a realistic goal and an approach that integrates multiple control techniques may bring the most success to suppressing EWM’s sub-super powers.

For a deeper look into the latest WDNR research on EWM, read the article ‘The science behind the “so-called” super weed’ in the August 2016 issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources.

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Help wetlands, raise beetles!

By Jenny Seifert, UWEX Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Specialist

Now is the time to be growing purple loosestrife, an invasive plant, in your backyard.

What, you ask? Why would you tell us to intentionally nurture an invasive species?

Good question. Normally, we shouldn’t be planting or otherwise encouraging invasive species in our gardens, ponds or properties.

But purple loosestrife is an oddball case. Tending just a couple of specimens of this otherwise unwanted wetland invasive can be beneficial if done to help their worst enemy, Cella beetles, grow and flourish.

Cella beetles are our best defense against purple loosestrife. Photo credit: Paul Skawinski

The beetles, formally called Galerucella pusilla and Galerucella calmariensis, have become heroes for wetland lovers, because they are really good at eating purple loosestrife. Their appetites prevent the plants from growing tall and producing seeds, allowing native wetland species to thrive instead.

About two decades ago, the DNR and partners first released the European-native Cella beetles in Wisconsin in an attempt to “stem the purple (loosestrife) tide,” which was consuming so many wetlands that land managers had nearly given up hope that it could be tamed. Now, the beetles are a frontline defense against this wetland-ruining (although, kinda pretty) exotic plant.

Each spring, the beetle army gets a little help from people around Wisconsin, who rear new recruits to be deployed come summer. Each cohort starts small but multiplies quickly – up to 100 times the starting population – before flying off to duty.

You can help raise an army, too! Here’s what the task entails:

  • Order a “starter kit,” containing beetles and cage netting, from the Wisconsin DNR for a $20 donation (it’s free to teachers!) by filling out this application. The DNR will mail the netting to you immediately and the beetles in May.
  • Once the netting arrives, sew it into “cages,” which you will attach to your purple loosestrife planting pots (don’t worry, instructions will be included) to protect the plants and beetles from other critters that might eat them.
  • As soon as the spring thaw hits, dig up a few of the tallest loosestrife plants from your property or, with landowner permission, a nearby infested wetland. Pot and cage them immediately, and place them in your backyard or schoolyard. Here’s how to identify purple loosestrife, if you don’t know what it looks like. (See also the pictures below.)
  • By May, your plants should be two or more feet tall, and it will be beetle time. As soon as you get your beetles, place ten of them in each cage with the plants.
  • In June or July, you will start noticing new adult beetles in the cages, which means it’s time to move the potted plants to a nearby loosestrife-infested wetland, which may or may not be the same one from which you collected them.
  • Remove the cages and release the beetles!
  • Report your release to the DNR, including the location, so we can keep track of your much-appreciated efforts.

If you really want to geek out, you can help the DNR monitor your beetles and their progress by photographing your wetland year to year and filling out this form.

This letter has more details about how to get involved in Cella beetle rearing, or you can contact the state’s purple loosestrife guy, Brock Woods, at brock.woods [at] wisconsin.gov.

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As the ice begins to melt, here are some invasive species to be on the lookout for

By Jenny Seifert, UWEX Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Specialist

The weird spring tease we got this week – in February – got me thinking about what sorts of aquatic invasive species (AIS) water lovers could be on the lookout for as Wisconsin’s lakes begin to awaken from their icy slumber. So I had a quick chat with one of the state’s AIS gurus, Paul Skawinski, the Citizen Lake Monitoring Network Educator with UW-Extension Lakes and a self-proclaimed “dorky botanist.”

According to Skawinski, a few AIS are active during the winter, meaning they aren’t dead or dormant, but are still photosynthesizing (albeit slowly), eating plankton, and going about their usual ways. People can keep their eyes out for these species while seizing the day with some late-season ice fishing or just wandering about a thawing lakescape.

Eurasian water milfoil and curly leaf pondweed are typically still standing and readily visible under the ice,” says Skawinski, naming two of those hardy few that can tough it out through a Wisconsin winter.

The advantage these two invasive plants have is their tolerance of darkness and cold water. In the summer, they can grow in deep waters, where light and warmth are scarce, which means when ice and snow curtain lakes in the winter, it’s no big deal for them.

Another winter-resistant species is starry stonewort, an invasive alga that is relatively new to Wisconsin. While its green “planty” parts die off in the winter, its star-shaped bulbils, or its namesake reproduction centers, are still detectable, staying cozy in the lake sediment and ready to sprout come spring.

Starry stonewort’s bulbil, or reproduction center, can overwinter in lake sediments. Credit: Paul Skawinski

“These species can grow fast and tall, and quickly shade out other species, making it harder for some native species to grow back in the spring,” says Skawinski of why winter hardiness among invasive flora contributes to their potential dominance in a lake.

One more invasive critter to be on the lookout for as Wisconsin melts is the zebra mussel, that pipe-clogging filter feeder that can smother native mussels, promote algal growth and generally get all over everything.

A stubborn zebra mussel clings to an aquatic plant, even during winter’s deep freeze. Credit: Paul Skawinski

“I was out on a lake last weekend and pulled Eurasian water milfoil through the ice with several zebra mussels attached,” says Skawinski of a trip he made with some citizen lake monitors to Cedar Lake. For the past four or five years, he has done wintertime explorations around the state to see what he can find lurking under the ice.

So what should you do if find any of these or other invasive flora or fauna as winter turns to spring?

“Contact someone,” says Skawinski.

Specifically, you can choose among your regional AIS Coordinator at the DNR, your regional Tribal or County Coordinator or your regional Citizen Lake Monitoring Network Coordinator. Be sure to tell them what species you found, how much of it you saw, when you found it and whether you have a sample you could send them. This information helps them keep track of invasive populations and recommend appropriate management actions.

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