Contact(s): Owen Boyle, 608-266-5244 or Tim Asplund, 608-267-7602
MADISON - The important role volunteers play in Wisconsin in assessing water quality in lakes and rivers and keeping tabs on wildlife from frogs to owls to dragonflies, takes center stage this week in Stevens Point.
Hundreds of lake association members, volunteer stream monitors and other citizen scientists are gathering for their annual conferences March 30-April 2, and this year, they'll be meeting together at one time and one place to celebrate volunteers and mark some special milestones.
The Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey turns 35, the Wisconsin Citizen Lake Monitoring Network turns 30, and the Water Action Volunteers celebrate their 20th anniversary.
"Wisconsin is a national leader in citizen science and we are fortunate to have so many great volunteers," says Sanjay Olson, administrator of the DNR Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division.
"Their information and insight are critical to keeping Wisconsin's lakes and rivers healthy and protecting our native plants and wildlife. We couldn't do the job without them and we are glad to have this opportunity to celebrate them and thank them."
Fittingly, on March 31, the longtime leader of the Water Action Volunteers and a founder of a fledgling national citizen science organization, will return to Wisconsin to give the keynote address.
Kris Stepenuck, an assistant professor at the University of Vermont's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, will be Thursday's keynote speaker. From 2001-2015, she coordinated Wisconsin's Water Action Volunteers Stream Monitoring Program and currently serves as secretary of the national Citizen Science Association. Stepenuck will share her research on the impacts of citizen volunteer efforts on water quality and other issues.
The Wisconsin Lakes Partnership Convention runs March 30- April 1 and the Water Action Volunteers and Wisconsin Citizen Based Monitoring Network meet April 1-2. All are at the Stevens Point Holiday Inn and Convention Center. Find agendas, register and more online.
Four volunteers who started monitoring water clarity in 1986 with the launch of the Citizen Lake Monitoring Network, then called the Self-Help Lake Monitoring Program, are still monitoring today and will be among the amazing volunteers recognized at Stevens Point for their contributions. DNR, the University of Wisconsin-Extension and Wisconsin Lakes sponsor this program and provide training and equipment for volunteers.
Over the life of the program, thousands of volunteers have helped monitor conditions on more than 1,400 lakes in Wisconsin. Several times a year volunteers measure water clarity, and collect water samples for chemical analysis to track oxygen, phosphorus and other water quality indicators. n more recent years, volunteers have recorded ice-on and ice off dates and searched for aquatic invasive species or helped identify and document native plants, according to Tim Asplund, who leads DNR's water resources monitoring staff.
In 2015, 934 volunteers collected data on 725 lakes. Annual reports are generated for each lake, and DNR, local governments and lake associations use the information to inform a variety of management decisions on those lakes. Also, the citizen volunteers have enabled Wisconsin to be one of the first states to use satellite technology to estimate water quality on lakes where there are no people monitoring.
Wisconsin's Water Action Volunteers has grown steadily throughout its 20 year history, with more than 500 adults and families conducting stream monitoring and more than 2,000 students participating under the guidance of a teacher. In 2015, volunteers monitored a record 751 unique stream sites in 59 counties. Since 2012, volunteers have been monitoring total phosphorus in streams, monitoring tasks that otherwise would have been carried out by DNR staff. Such monitoring resulted in an estimated savings of more than $93,000 from 2012 through the 2015 monitoring season, according to Peggy Compton, the interim coordinator of WAV for UW-Extension.
Program administration comes from UW-Extension and DNR statewide coordinators with support from local program coordinators who are often affiliated with other agencies or non-profit organizations.
More than 150 organizations in Wisconsin, including DNR, put volunteers to work every year monitoring water quality and the numbers, distribution and habitat of native and invasive species. DNR and organizations with monitoring programs formed a loose affiliation called the Citizen-based Monitoring Network of Wisconsin (exit DNR) in 2004 to improve their effectiveness by providing communications, resources, and recognition.
Since then, Wisconsin has been one of the few states with a full-time staff member working with citizen-based monitoring projects, and the DNR has annually awarded up to $100,000 in seed money to help organizations and programs advance citizen-based monitoring projects that address priority data needs for the department, according to Owen Boyle, who leads DNR's species management staff in the Natural Heritage Conservation program.
One such example on display this weekend will be a statewide effort to recruit volunteers to help complete a comprehensive update of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas survey. Thousands of volunteers are expected to participate in the five-year survey, which holds its kickoff meeting April 1-3 in nearby Rothschild.