Help make draining your livewell go viral! #JustDrainIt

Post by Jenny Seifert, UWEX Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Specialist (now at https://www.nceas.ucsb.edu/) 

Draining livewells and transporting fish on ice helps prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Water left in livewells, bait buckets and bilges is a vehicle for the spread of fish diseases and aquatic invasive species between lakes. That is why draining all equipment before leaving a boat launch  is required in Wisconsin – a requirement that will be underscored at the upcoming statewide Drain Campaign and its hashtag #JustDrainIt.

The annual campaign will take place this weekend, June 9-11. Volunteers will be talking with anglers and boaters at landings around the state and, in some cases, handing out free ice packs as a substitute to keeping fish in water.

New to the Drain Campaign this year is the #JustDrainIt social media blitz, a coordinated way for anglers to help share its message. If you use social media, help spread the word about the importance of draining livewells and other equipment by posting photos and messages using #JustDrainIt.

Wisconsin law prohibits the transport of invasive species because they have negative impacts on our aquatic ecosystems and our economy. Draining your water and, instead, using ice – which many anglers argue does a better job of preserving the flavor of their fish anyway – is the best way to comply with the law and help keep our lakes and fisheries healthy.

The following steps are required by law to prevent aquatic invasive species.

  • 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 when fishing with them 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.

Learn more about invasive species and their impacts to Wisconsin’s waters and economy.

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Want to know what AIS are in your lake? WDNR has a database for that

By Jenny Seifert, UWEX Aquatic Invasive Species Outreach Specialist

Not sure what invasive species are in your local lake? The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has a database designed to help you determine just that.

Since the early 1990s, WDNR has been collecting information on aquatic invasive species in the state. All of that info is fed to a database called the Surface Water Integrated Monitoring System (SWIMS), which then feeds various tools on the agency’s website that can show you what’s in your lake – well, not everything…and that’s where you can help.

One of the tools the database populates is this groovy map, called the Lakes & AIS Mapping Tool, which gives you a satellite’s view of the state and lets you zoom in on your lake to find out what invasive species are in it.

Click the option “Show Layers” in the horizontal menu toward the top to peruse the data. Within the layer options, you’ll find lists of the invasive plants, fish and invertebrates that are prohibited or restricted under Wisconsin’s invasive species law, NR40.

Select a species by clicking its box. If a new color pops up on your lake, it means that species has been seen in your lake; if nothing happens, it means it hasn’t been seen.

The turquoise indicates the presence of the invasive faucet snail, which can carry parasites harmful to waterfowl, in the Lake Winnebago region.

If the map indicates a species has been seen, then click “Show Legend” to see whether its presence has been verified by an expert or observed, meaning someone has seen it but an expert has not officially confirmed that it is established in the lake. If it indicates “no longer observed,” that means the populations found in those locations never managed to become established.

The legend will show you whether the species is verified, observed, or no longer observed.

If you’re more of a list person than a map person, the SWIMS data is also organized into lists. Look for your lake on this list to see what invasive species have been confirmed in it. The list can also help you determine whether that invasive Eurasian watermilfoil you found floating by your dock is in fact new to your lake or if someone has already verified it.

Before you dive into the data, take a note of caution: even if the map or list seems to indicate your lake is free of certain prohibited or restricted invasive species, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. The SWIMS database relies on information collected by WDNR biologists and volunteers, neither of which can be everywhere.

And this is where your help comes in – you can help the DNR populate the SWIMS database by becoming a citizen scientist who helps monitor lakes for invasive species. There are three volunteer programs to choose from, all of which collect data for SWIMS:

  • Citizen Lake Monitoring Network, a program managed in partnership with UW-Extension that allows volunteers to collect data on invasive species and other important lake data,
  • Water Action Volunteers is for those who prefer streams and rivers, and is also focused on more than just invasive species;
  • Snapshot Day is a one-day-only commitment to help the WDNR, Citizen Lake Monitoring Network, Water Action Volunteers and the River Alliance of Wisconsin check rivers, lakes and wetlands around the state for invasive species.

Interested? You’ll be joining a growing network of the cool kids who are helping the WDNR keep an eye on the health of our lakes, rivers and wetlands. The data you collect informs the agency’s decisions on how best to prevent and control invasive species.

The bright green borders indicate lakes where volunteers are helping the WDNR monitor for aquatic invasive species in the Lake Winnebago region, but there are volunteers statewide.

Even if you can’t devote time to volunteer, you can still play an important role by reporting any species that look a little fishy to you, so to speak. If you find something, say something!

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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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