Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

High School Students pulling invasive plants. © Southeast Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium

A Phillips High School science class tackles buckthorn.
© Southeast Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium

August 2013

Cooperative Weed Management Areas

Local and regional groups take on invasive species.

Kelly Kearns

Don’t be surprised if when you hike through a forested park you see groups of volunteers pulling garlic mustard. This highly invasive Eurasian plant is the target of annual control efforts by thousands of landowners around the state. However, pulling your own weeds can be a losing battle if your neighbors or the park down the road allows them to thrive. The solution — join others in your area to share information and prioritize and coordinate prevention and control projects.

Growing a partnership

Groups that band together for the purpose of dealing with invasive plants are traditionally called Cooperative Weed Management Areas, or CWMAs. Local citizens, landowners, non–profit groups and businesses join together with city, county, state, tribal and federal officials to cooperate and coordinate invasive plant work across jurisdictional boundaries. Don’t let the word "weed" fool you, it is much more than weeds. Some groups include aquatic invasive species and forest pests in their responsibilities.

In Wisconsin, some of these groups have formalized their partnerships through written agreements and strategic plans that help them prioritize projects and seek grant funding. Our first official CWMA was formed in 2005 as Northwoods CWMA. Others have agreed to more informal partnerships, or to work only on a specific project, location or troublesome species. By pooling their talents, time and resources partners leverage their own efforts. They provide an exceptional model to help meet management goals on a landscape scale.

Getting the word out

Outreach and education are primary goals of all of these organizations, regardless of their size or focus. They reach out to landowners and others through the media, local presentations, farmer’s markets, local fairs and festivals and other forums. Invasive Species Awareness Month, held in June each year, finds many of these partners linking teaching about invasives with opportunities for control work or creative fun in the outdoors.

A few groups have “Weed Feeds,” where they share dishes made from garlic mustard, Japanese knotweed and other edible weeds. New this year, a 30–mile bike ride in Rock County included break stations where riders learned about invasive species. Many groups have speakers bureaus and lead field trips and workshops.

Hitting the road

In 2009, the state’s invasive species rule, NR 40, went into effect. A few DNR staff had a large job to train numerous groups of people about the new rule and how they could help to minimize the spread of invasive species through Best Management Practices. The Southeast Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium stepped in to put on workshops for managers of roadsides, utilities, parks and public works. While other CWMAs put on similar trainings, in some areas county staff and volunteers partnered to conduct additional educational sessions.

Wild parsnip, teasel, spotted knapweed and thistles are well–recognized because they flourish along roadsides. Late season mowing, after seeds have developed, often results in these invasives being spread along the rights–of–way (ROW), and then into adjacent crop fields, pastures and prairies. These fast growing aggressive species pose a major threat to the few remaining prairies in the state where already 99.9 percent of our original prairies have disappeared under the plow, pavement and development.

Keeping these few remnants from being overtaken by invasives is a constant struggle. Many CWMAs have begun to conduct ROW surveys. The techniques vary from using teams of volunteers to slowly drive roads and record target plants, to hiring summer interns to walk every roadside, mapping all invasive plants seen. Data gathered is typically shared with county highway departments who put the information into their county maps. After training sessions with their maintenance staff, highway managers are encouraged to coordinate their mowing to target specific weedy stretches before the plants start developing seed.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) is supporting the effort by having county crews, who are contracted to mow state and federal highways, complete their mowing earlier in the season. As there are limited funds for control work of invasive plants on roadsides, some local groups are receiving permits from DOT or their counties to do their own control of certain weedy sites.

Preventing the spread of invasives is the most efficient way to minimize their impacts. For years, volunteers and lakeshore owners have met boaters at launches, instructing them to remove plants from their boats and trailers and drain water before leaving the ramp. Similar messages are being adopted and shared with loggers, campers, mountain bikers, ATVers and many others to remove the mud and other debris (and the seeds it may contain) from equipment and clothing before moving to a new area.

CWMAs are also partnering with the DNR’s earthworm specialist to educate anglers not to dump their earthworms in forests, where their spread can be very damaging.

Early detection

Finding and containing small or new populations of known or suspected invaders before they become widespread is the best way to tackle most pioneering invasives. DNR’s invasive plant team can help regional groups determine which plants are likely to become established and spread in their areas. Land managers, landowners and other partners are trained to identify these plants, report their locations and coordinate control work, maximizing their efforts. Monitoring after control work is critical in preventing a population from exploding. Containing a population and preventing invasive plants from spreading will save money, time and biodiversity in the long run.

On the ground

Many local groups conduct "weed–outs" or work parties. Some work primarily on containing new species or removing new infestations from their local natural areas. Others, like the Madison Area Weed Warriors, schedule events each year to keep plants like garlic mustard from becoming established in numerous local parks. In the southeast counties, a competitive garlic mustard "pull–a–thon" was held.

The Giant Hogweed CWMA formed between Iron County in Wisconsin, Gogebic County in Michigan and the U.S. Forest Service with the sole purpose of containing the largest of Wisconsin’s herbaceous weeds. This massive plant has leaves up to three feet across, flowers the size of a basketball and a sap that causes serious burns on skin. After several years of regularly controlling the known populations, the group has disbanded, with only a few plants remaining to be controlled each year.

Lessons learned from this group have been instrumental in Manitowoc County where the Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator is working with landowners to locate and contain the only other hogweed populations known in the state.

Unfortunately, one common trait of all groups working on invasive plant issues is insufficient funding. Very little state or federal funding is available for terrestrial invasive plant prevention or control. Therefore, cooperation and careful prioritization of projects is critical to success. By working together and sharing tools, supplies and people, very small amounts of money can go a long way. One of the benefits of cooperating regionally is being able to share resources. A few groups have obtained grants to stock a community tool shed, allowing landowners, organizations and work party leaders to borrow the tools they need to conduct their control projects.

How to get involved

Interested in working with your local CWMA or starting one in your area? The map shows areas with groups that are currently organized or being developed. For more information and contacts for any of these groups, see: Invasive Plants Association of Wisconsin or Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and search for "CWMA". For information about starting your own CWMA, see: Midwest Invasive Plant Network For help finding others in your area who are interested, or for help getting a CWMA started, email Kelly Kearns

Working with your neighbors to contain the spread of invasive species can be fun and a great form of exercise. We can all be more effective when we work together. By having a CWMA organized, when a problem species shows up or a group requests a presentation, the partners know who to call and can quickly take action.

Kelly Kearns is DNR’s Endangered Resources Invasive Plants Coordinator.