A decade of invasive species management
Reflecting on the gains made by WHIP
By Laurie Lenten
The Wisconsin Headwaters Invasive Partnership, otherwise known as WHIP by those in the know, is one of the least known names among the many out there that are fighting the war against invasive species in the Northwoods.
“We get that a lot,” said WHIP coordinator Rosie Page, “People just don’t know who we are or what we do. It is definitely something we are working on.”
In the meantime, explained Rosie, WHIP is a multi-agency co-op that serves Vilas, Oneida and as of 2019, Lincoln counties. “We are one of 14 such Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas, or CISMAs, across the state of Wisconsin that work with partner groups to manage invasive species across jurisdictional boundaries,” she said.
To break that down further, WHIP is a completely grant funded organization that serves as a hub to bring together the expertise and resources of such agencies as the United States Forest Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, and the Northwoods Land Trust – to name but a few of WHIP’s 15 formal partners – to tackle the endless barrage of terrestrial invasive species in North Central Wisconsin.
Battling terrestrial invasives, Rosie said, is really what sets WHIP apart and could explain why it is not a household name.
“In our area people are much more aware of aquatic invasive species because of all the lakes we have here and how much our economy is tied to the water. WHIP, however, focuses on terrestrial invasives. We have a huge amount of trails in the Northwoods that also draw people to this area and terrestrial invasives threaten those trails,” she said. “We value our forests. We depend on them in so many ways.”
It was that sense of valuing the land that prompted a group of concerned individuals to take on some terrestrial invasives, which in turn brought WHIP into existence.
“Back in 2009,” Rosie explained, “both invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn were found on the grounds of the Vilas County Courthouse and at a local park. That was enough for a group of people to come together to take care of the problem.”
By 2010 members of the fledgling group had reached out to Oneida County, jointly wrote a memorandum of understanding, and WHIP was born.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of W
HIP and a celebration was to be held at the WHIP Annual Meeting on March 18, at the Bradley Town Hall, in Lincoln County, but unfortunately the event was cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
In a typical year the annual meeting is open to the public, includes a luncheon, and a series of speakers presenting on relevant invasive species topics. The event serves as WHIP’s largest single yearly public event at which to educate the public about invasive species, as well as the group itself.
In lieu of the annual meeting, Rosie agreed to share an overview of WHIP’s biggest accomplishments over the past decade and the direction she sees WHIP going in the future.
Though WHIP has conducted a variety of projects aimed at identifying and eradicating terrestrial invasives over the years, Rosie said one of the milestone accomplishments was the County Highways Roadside Survey Project that was done in 2012-2013.
The project, which was funded with a grant from the Lumberjack Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc., based in Rhinelander, involved hiring individuals who surveyed – foot-by-foot, every county road in Vilas and Oneida counties using GPS technology to map the presence of terrestrial invasives on roadsides. The work took eight months.
The results yielded a bi-county Draft Highway Roadside Management Plan drafted by the WHIP Steering Committee, which is comprised of eleven members from WHIP’s partner agencies, that offers recommendations on steps to follow as new species are reported, as well as best management practices for preventing noxious weeds alongside highways.
According to Rosie the final plan and map are invaluable tools for identifying and managing terrestrial invasives going forward. WHIP and the counties involved now have a blueprint to use for comparison purposes. “This was a big project and down the road we will be able to look back, compare changes, and easily identify new invasives as they crop up,” she noted.
Just as boats aid in the spread of aquatic invasive species so to do vehicles aid the spread of terrestrial invasives. “Terrestrial invasive plant seeds stick to car tires and are spread. That is how we have gotten so many non-native thistles along our roadsides,” Rosie said.
Landscaping and gardening are also known sources of terrestrial invasive spread, which, said Rosie, is the story behind another of WHIP’s success stories.
“In 2017 we were approached by the Natural Lakes Private Preserve which is comprised of 200 landowners in northern Vilas County. They maintain their own roads and they discovered that they had a huge invasive honeysuckle problem. They came to us to find out what they could do,” said Rosie.
The answer? “We did a lot of teaching and educating,” said Rosie. “There were lots of volunteer hours involved and hard physical labor. The work paid off, though, and today the Natural Lakes Private Preserve has its own team of volunteers that stays on top of the problem.”
Invasive honeysuckle is a problem that got its start 50 or 60 years back when the plant was widely used by homeowners as privacy fencing. “Many terrestrial invasives are garden plants that have spread into areas and naturalized. Purple Loosestrife, Lilies of the Valley, and Day Lilies are all garden plants that if left to naturalize can create big problems for our forests,” she says.
It’s those kinds of invasive problems that will keep WHIP busy heading into the next decade Rosie said. To do that effectively will require increased involvement with local communities and making townships aware that it doesn’t take thousands of dollars to fight terrestrial invasives.
“We have been working with the town of Newbold for the past two years. They wanted to know what terrestrial invasives were on their roadsides so we educated their road department crew and the town developed a huge map that is on display in their town hall to show interested land owners what’s on the roadsides and at the ends of their driveways,” said Rosie. “We had a work day at their disc golf course to identify and eradicate invasives. These are simple things that any township can do and we are here to help. We have the combined resources of many agencies that we can call upon to get the job done.”
For anyone interested in knowing just which terrestrial invasives might be on their property, Rosie recommends The Great Lakes Early Detection Network (Great Lakes EDN) App. “Anyone can download the free app onto their phone. It easily helps you identify terrestrial invasives and by using GPS lets you report the exact location of the invasive. It is what we use here at WHIP.”
Laurie Lenten is a freelance writer who lives in Rhinelander. Her articles also appear in Northwoods Commerce, Northwoods ‘boomers and Beyond and Lake View magazines.