Tracy Arnold is the Conservation Program Coordinator at the Wood County Land Conservation Department. She shares a little bit about her experience and involvement in this effort below.
Working with the Wood County Land Conservation Department, I have had the opportunity to be involved in numerous interesting and educational programs and projects. In 2009, Paul Skawinski, then of Golden Sands RC & D, contacted me to see if I wanted to help estimate the rusty crayfish population in the Yellow River. I didn’t know much about rusty crayfish and going into the field with Paul is always a positive learning experience so I jumped at the opportunity. Our main goal was to figure out an effective way for lake groups to trap rusty crayfish as a form of control. We tested three spots along the Yellow River in Wood County to establish where would be most effective to conduct our study. With twenty borrowed traps from UW Stevens Point and a variety of bait, we set the traps; making sure that our sites were of varying depths, substrates and water flow rates. On our first day of setting the traps, the river bottom seemed to be crawling with crayfish that would quickly scurry away as a foot approached; other wildlife seemed to be nonexistent.
After leaving the traps for 48 hours, we came back with 5 gallon buckets, tongs, our interns and a lot of curiosity about how successful we would be. We started pulling traps and collecting data on the crayfish as well as documenting possible changes to make to the traps to improve our numbers. The first day ended with over 2,000 crayfish being caught. As they were lying at our feet we were faced with the question “now what?”
Prior to my work with Wood County LCD, I spent some time working in wildlife rehabilitation. I thought we could find a wildlife rehabber who could use an endless supply of free food for the summer. We started filling gallon freezer bags with crayfish and my home freezer with the bags; my husband was thrilled! A raccoon rehabber in the Rome, WI area said she had 6 raccoons and would love them. It didn’t take long before we figured out we had too many crayfish for six raccoons and needed to find another place. We contacted the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay and they said they would absolutely take them. The 2009 trapping season went like this: 1 month, 26 traps, 15,000 rusty crayfish removed and 40 very happy, full raccoons!
Wood County currently does not have lake associations and I didn’t want all of our hard work and knowledge gained to end after just one summer but I also didn’t have time to devote to checking the traps myself. I contacted Todd Steward, Advanced Biology teacher at Pittsville High School to see if he would be interested in partnering with Wood County LCD to pilot a research project. Being that the Yellow River runs right behind the High School and there was already a water quality unit, a trapping research project would fit right in. Mr. Steward applied for and received a grant to purchase equipment for the students to use. I worked on securing money to build traps and getting some construction blueprints for them. We ended up getting measurements from an existing trap and coming up with our own set of blueprints(http://dnrx.wisconsin.gov/swims/downloadDocument.do?id=67208924). I pursued and was successful in getting a freezer donated to store our catch until we could meet Bay Beach Wildlife Rehab staff. Wood County LCD made 10 traps and we borrowed some from UWSP to have enough for the three classes that would participate in the research project.
I started coming up with a description of the research project and presented it to the students at the end of April. We started trapping in the first part of May. We decided to start in May as the female crayfish would still be in berry, meaning they were holding eggs under their tails and we could capture the maximum number of crayfish possible. The students were placed in groups of 2-3 per trap. They made data sheets to record: depth of water the trap was placed in, flow rate where trap was placed, characteristics of river where trap was placed, ex-sun/shade, ratio of male to female, what bait was used, what container bait was placed in, water temperature, air temperature and substrate where trap was placed. They checked their traps every other day for 2 weeks and gathered data. They turned their data into graphs, reports and theories and had class discussions about what they found.
The students seemed to enjoy the project despite the occasional wet clothing and bad weather that occurred. So far we have had two successful years of this project and are expanding the project to two new schools this year. It is so satisfying to see students out doing real world applications while gaining appreciation for natural resources.