Removing Invasive Plants Limits Their Spread Through Wisconsin

Project Summary: A coalition of groups are combating the spread of invasive weeds in southeast Wisconsin to protect fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, and outdoor recreational opportunities.
Workers getting ready to paddle out and identify aquatic invasives. Photo courtesy of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

Workers getting ready to paddle out and identify aquatic invasives. Photo courtesy of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

Location: Ozaukee County, Wisconsin

Description: Southeast Wisconsin is currently threatened by the spread of several invasive plant species that have the potential to completely alter natural ecosystems, with disastrous consequences for wildlife and people. The invasive plants are extremely aggressive, and once established their dense root systems can make it difficult for native plants to compete; invasives can take over an entire landscape to the point where they’re the only thing growing. This can significantly reduce the presence of fish and wildlife in an area, as the invasive weeds do not provide them with their ecological needs. The root systems of some invasives, such as Japanese knotweed, are so dense and aggressive that they have the ability to grow through concrete and pavement, damaging roads, basements, and other infrastructure. Invasives even have the ability to alter soil chemistry and degrade the quality of groundwater. It has been estimated that the annual economic impact of aquatic invasive plants in the U.S. is in the billions.

A worker mows down a stand of phragmites. Photo courtesy of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

A worker mows down a stand of phragmites. Photo courtesy of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

Thanks to a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant, the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust is combating the spread of four invasive weeds throughout southeast Wisconsin. Coordinating with 25 partner organizations across six counties, the trust is targeting so-called “pioneer colonies” of four invasive plants: phragmites; Japanese knotweed; purple loosestrife; and lyme grass. Pioneer colonies of these weeds are still young and small enough that they may be effectively controlled; if left unmanaged, eradicating them may quickly become unfeasible. The Land Trust is controlling these species with herbicides, mowing, prescribed burns, and biocontrols such as beetles that eat the non-native plants. With each treatment, care is taken to ensure that unintended residual effects are minimized. Treated sites are monitored for three years to guard against any re-sprouting plants and ensure that the control methods are effective. The Land Trust and their partner organizations are hosting workshops to train volunteers to remove the weeds, and to help the public learn more about the invasives in their area. The Trust is also creating an inventory of sites they’ve treated to inform future management efforts.

Approximate cost of project: $573,663. Of this, $448,663 was provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The remaining $125,000 was raised by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

Resource challenges addressed: Invasive species, loss of native plant species, loss of fish and wildlife habitat, soil quality, water quality.

Key partners (public and private): Milwaukee County Parks; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; The Conservation Fund; Racine Health Department; Gathering Waters Conservancy; Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy; Racine County; Weed Out!; Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District; Pleasant Prairie Parks Department; Ozaukee County; Wisconsin Waterfowl; Ozaukee County Fish Passage; Maywood Environment Park; Root River Council; Kenosha Grounds Crew; City of Port Washington; Kenosha County; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Great Lakes Early Detection Network; The Nature Conservancy; U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service; Southeastern Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium; Sheboygan County; and Washington County.

Types of jobs created: Town weed commissioner, contractors, non-profits, general laborers.

Workers introduce the cella beetle, which eats purple loosestrife - and nothing else. Photo courtesy of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

Workers introduce the cella beetle, which eats purple loosestrife – and nothing else. Photo courtesy of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

Results and accomplishments: The project is restoring the natural quality of hundreds of acres of shoreline and wetlands throughout southeast Wisconsin. So far, 130 acres have been treated; by the end of 2014, the Trust plans to have treated 1,500 acres in total. The restored areas are helping improve the quality of wildlife habitat and groundwater quality. Restoring native plants and wildlife enhances outdoor recreation for hikers, wildlife watchers, hunters, and anglers. Retaining aesthetically natural landscapes improves property values, and removing invasive root systems prevents significant property and infrastructure damage. An inventory of treated sites has been created to inform future management action.

Website: http://owlt.org/aquatic-invasives

Originally published on April 24, 2014.

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