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.
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.
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.
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!