On the crisp morning of Saturday, September 13th, 161 volunteers convened at 17 sites around the state to embark on a treasure hunt that would take them to one or more rivers in search of invasive species. Donning winter hats and coats, they scurried down bridge abutments, waded into the water, and scoured the river bed and banks to see what they could find. Collectively they monitored 142 sites on 59 different waterbodies (see the map at the rights for the rendezvous sites).
This statewide event was organized by the River Alliance of Wisconsin in partnership with the Wisconsin DNR and 24 other organizations statewide. The goal was to detect new infestations of invasive species, including pioneer populations such as recent aquarium releases, and to engage new volunteers in invasive species monitoring and reporting.
On the morning of the event, volunteers received a 45 minute training on the relatively simple monitoring protocols which involved visually assessing the site, scooping substrate and course woody debris with D-nets or handmade scoops, and raking for emergent and submerged vegetation. Volunteers were asked to keep their eyes peeled for a total of 22 species, including wetland plants, aquatic plants and aquatic invertebrates, which many of them were introduced to for the first time that morning. Understanding that they might not be up to the task of positively identifying all of the target species, they were provided 2 gallon plastic bags to collect all suspicious plants and invertebrates to be examined by the local coordinator back at the rendezvous site.
Back at the rendezvous sites, local invasive species experts anxiously awaited their return. Each datasheet and bag was examined. The coordinators verified the volunteer's findings and collected specimens to vouchers. If volunteers found a species that had not previously been documented on a waterbody or if the identify of a suspect specimen could not be verified, vouchers were submitted to regional Wisconsin DNR staff.
What did they find? Volunteers found invasive species at 46 of the sites. The four most common species found were zebra mussels (14), faucet snails (15), purple loosestrife(13) and Eurasian watermilfoil (17). No new infestations of prohibited water garden plants were found. Click here for a map of the monitoring sites and results.
The event was a great success. We are very pleased with the quality of data received thanks to the local coordinators' expertise, the geographic breadth of the effort, and have received great feedback from volunteers. Of course, we could not have done it without the local coordinators, the Wisconsin DNR and the Wisconsin Citizen Based Monitoring Network. All have expressed interest in repeating the event in 2015 if the resources are available; however, the consensus seems to be that we should do it in August when we are more likely to catch flowering plants in bloom..... and a bit more warmer temps!