Oneida County AIS coordinator: What happens after invasive species are removed
The push to eradicate, or at least manage, invasive species is at an all-time high. Lake groups are battling Eurasian water-milfoil with herbicides, bio-control beetles or mechanical removal. Student groups are hand-pulling garlic mustard by the acre, citizens are clip, clip, clipping away purple loosestrife flowers, and waterfront property owners are flexing their muscles while trying to remove yellow iris plants that can be four feet high! Great news, right? Well, as an aquatic invasive species (AIS) coordinator, it’s part of my job to ask, “Is this the best we can do?” When I first started in my job as AIS coordinator for Oneida County, I began to research the possible restoration of chemically treated Eurasian water-milfoil stands. Could we plant native aquatic plants back into the treated area? Should we plant native aquatic plants back into the treated area? After a few phone calls and many a research paper later, I threw the towel in the ring. It would seem the best course of action was to let Mother Nature do her thing.
Being a Leo, I was not so easily swayed by my early “restoration failure.” Just because I couldn’t or shouldn’t plant native species back into the lake, that sure didn’t mean I couldn’t help Mother Nature along in wetlands and on shorelands. So began the journey to not only remove AIS, but to replace AIS with native plants. Did I stop there? No! I didn’t want to just buy native plants to replace AIS, I wanted to grow our own native plants to restore AIS-affected sites. I had just the teachers and students in mind to help me: Mrs. Werner’s fourth grade class from Central Intermediate and Ms. Lehman’s work experience students from Rhinelander High School.
The first thing our group needed to do was to collect seed from native wetland plants. During the last weeks of summer, I ribboned plants that Ms. Lehman’s class would later visit. The students then harvested, cleaned and bagged the seed, readying it for the next step in its journey. Before the seeds could continue their journey, they needed a place to lay their heads during Wisconsin’s rough and tough winter. Two students (Cody and Jason) from Ms. Lehman’s class were given the task to build a seed frame that would “house” the seeds over winter. After the frame was built, it was time to sow the seeds!
On a blustery, snowy November day, I visited Mrs. Werner’s class to sow the first batch of native seeds. In no time, dirt was flying, smiles were everywhere and team work was the theme of the day. Native wetland plant seeds such as bog goldenrod (Solidago uliginosa), blue flag iris (Iris versicolor), and American burred (Sparganium americanum) were sown that day. Over 50 pots made their way from the classroom, down the hall and out the side door, while the seed frame sat silently awaiting its visitors. The students began to line the seed frame with the black pots, slowly filling the frame. It began to snow, lightly at first, then more heavily. By the time we were done, students and seeds alike had become covered with snow. Indeed a good sign, for snow would insulate and protect our newly planted seeds from all that Ol’ Man Winter could throw at us.
I am happy to report that even with the long and brutal winter we experienced this past year, small green sprouts began to appear in many of the pots with warmer weather. I looked closely one day and sure enough, there were baby bog goldenrods in multiple pots. With some of the pots I didn’t have to look too closely. The pots labeled blue flag iris had thin, spiky shoots sticking four inches out of the pot! I was just as excited as the students! We had succeeded in growing our native wetland species. Now can we succeed in replacing AIS with these native plants?
This summer the Oneida County Land & Water Conservation Department will work with multiple groups in removing AIS and replacing the invasive plants with student- grown native species. Not all student-grown plants will be able to be placed in the field this year; some will need to grow a bit larger before that can occur. One day, though, we hope to hold an “Invasive Species Plant Swap” where citizens can exchange their invasive plants for our beautiful and beneficial native species.
Is this the best we can do? Yes, I think it is.
Michele Sadauskas is the Oneida County AIS Coordinator and may be reached at (715) 365-2750 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact her to arrange AIS presentations and/or workshops, report any suspicious plant behavior, or to find out more about any of the above mentioned projects. She welcomes all questions.