Establishing an Aquatic Invasive Species Working Group for the North Central Region

Establishing an Aquatic Invasive Species Working Group for the North Central Region

Mid-Term Report


Aquatic invasive species (AIS) have well documented negative impacts on communities and aquatic ecosystems across the nation. Collectively, all invasive species cost communities in the United States $120 billion/year (Pimentel et al 2005). When limited to AIS, more localized numbers demonstrate the negative economic impacts. Whether it is an estimated negative impact of $230 million/year for shipborne invasions in the Great Lakes (Rothlisberger et al 2012) the $20 million Wisconsin Energies has spent since 2000 dealing with zebra and quagga mussels (Diane Schauer, unpublished data), or the multiple millions of dollars that would be needed to mitigate water clarity issues caused by the spiny waterflea in Lake Mendota in Madison, WI (Walsh et all 2016), it is well demonstrated that AIS are an economic drain on communities.

AIS also have negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems. They can reduce densities of desirable native species (Fitzsimmons et al 2006, Nichols et all 2003) and impact regionally threatened and endangered species (Reid and Mandrak 2008, Strayer 2010). AIS can also alter nutrient cycling (Turschak et al 2014) and hydrology (Tulborne et al 2007), and can contribute to harmful algal blooms (Vanderploeg 2001, Auer et al 2010) and the transmission of pathogens and parasites to native organisms (Sauer et al 2007, Domske and Obert 2001). Pathogens themselves can even be AIS, as evidence by fish diseases such as viral hemorrhagic septicemia and whirling disease. The ecological changes that invasive species can cause bring instability to natural systems that threaten the economies and ways of life that communities depend on (e.g. collapse of Lake Huron salmon fishery; collapse of nearshore Lake Michigan perch fishery).

With these documented and realized negative impacts, entities from across the country have invested substantial financial and human resources to prevent and mitigate these issues. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides nominal annual funding to every state with an approved AIS management plan. In Great Lakes states, that funding has been augmented with millions of dollars of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding that has been specifically earmarked for AIS issues. Other sources of state funding in upper Great Lakes states (e.g. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan) have also allowed for the creation of local grant-in-aid programs that have helped local entities address AIS issues in their service areas.

Extension professionals are important resources at each level of addressing AIS issues, from helping state-level natural resource managers develop programs to meet their management objectives (e.g. watercraft inspection programs to slow AIS spread, citizen monitoring efforts for data on AIS distribution), to offering support and programming to communities to meet their local needs (e.g. training to implement watercraft inspection/citizen monitoring programs).

Unfortunately, although AIS and their detrimental economic and ecological impacts are not limited to the Great Lakes Basin, a broader engagement of extension professionals in AIS issues in NCRWN states outside the Great Lakes Basin has been lacking. This could be for a number of reasons, including differences in funding availability, differences in existing AIS networks, and differences in water resources. Early discussion with NCRWN extension professionals outside the Great Lakes states indicates high levels of interest in engaging in AIS issues, but limited resources and access to existing materials, programs, and knowledge. The NCRWN structure represents an opportunity to share existing AIS extension programming among network states and expand the portfolio of issues that NCRWN extension programs can address. This will ultimately better protect the communities and water resources throughout the NCRWN from the undesirable impacts of AIS.


In order to address this gap,  a NCRWN AIS Working Group be created that establishes an extension-based network where one currently does not exist. This will benefit working group participants by connecting them other interested extension professionals that are working with AIS issues. This sharing of information that can increase efficiencies and help develop new programs across the network. An established working group will also position participants to take better advantage of regional funding opportunities for which only a coordinated network can successfully compete. This network also will benefit state AIS and natural resource managers. Extension-based programming is often at the heart of citizen efforts to prevent the spread of AIS and building capacity within extension for this kind of work gives managers another tool to use when addressing complex AIS issues. Lastly, this network has the potential to benefit local communities. Whether it be extension-based watercraft inspection programs that help interested citizens protect their lakes and rivers from AIS, or extension- based efforts to help businesses address AIS issues (e.g. Great Lakes Sea Grant Network’s AIS Prevention for Fishing Tournaments project), local communities stand to benefit greatly from extension programming that enable them to take action against AIS.

  • Establishment of a new, standing NCRWN AIS Working Group
  • Three online meetings of the Working Group
  • Member participation in one regional invasive species conference (UMISC) with an in-person meeting
  • Member participation in one MRBP workshop
  • One project summary at the conclusion of the grant period

Intended Impacts

  • NCRWN extension professionals interested in AIS issues are better connected to each other through a formal working group and can more easily work together to address AIS issues throughout the network. This connected working group will better be able to take advantage of regional funding opportunities as they arise.
  • The NCRWN is connected to the MRBP which can provide guidance on AIS issues of regional importance and can facilitate connections with state-level AIS and natural resource managers.o A possible outcome is that an extension representative is appointed to the MRBP to further solidify extension engagement throughout the MRBP and the NCRWN.
  • In the long run, the NCRWN AIS Working Group hopes to engage more citizens and natural resource managers in AIS management activities, which will prevent new invasions and will provide social and economic benefits (Finnoff et al 2005).

The first 6 months of the AIS Working Group resulted in considerable progress towards these goals. The working group met three times online and once in person at the Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference, with travel supported by this Seed Grant. Working group members also participated in a workshop that was sponsored by the Mississippi River Aquatic Nuisance Species Panel and attended one MRBP meeting. The working group also provided content for the January NCRWN “The Current” webinar and has met with the UW-Extension Environmental Resources Center Evaluation Unit to develop a plan to assess and track impacts.

The activities of the first six months of the working group have created a solid working relationship among extension professionals interested in AIS across the NCRWN and have charted a course of increased collaboration. Working group members will continue to meet every two months online to discuss, share, and workshop ideas for programs and new initiatives. Additional efforts to be completed before the end of the project period include completion of an audit of existing AIS programs across the NCRWN. This will advance our understanding of what programs exist across the network and where opportunities for sharing programs might exist.

Update on Deliverables

  • Establishment of a new, standing NCRWN AIS Working Group that extends beyond the scope of this seed grant
  • Three online meetings of the Working Group
    • The working group has meet three times online (8/10/16, 10/13/16, 12/4/16). It is likely that the working group will meet at least two more times before the end of the reporting period
  • Member participation in one regional invasive species conference (UMISC) with an in-person meeting
  • The working group had 12 members participate in the Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference; many of whom had not attended this conference previously. The working group had an informal meeting the Monday of the conference to identify shared concerns and opportunities for Network-wide collaboration.
  • Member participation in one MRBP workshop
  • Three members of the working group participated in the “Live Bait Regulations” workshop at UMISC that was hosted by the MRBP.
  • Provide content for a NCRWN networking webinar, blog post, or newsletter
    • Five members of the AIS working group presented on “The Current” webinar on 1/18, highlighting citizen engagement in AIS detection and monitoring efforts across the Network. About 65 people attended the webinar.


Tim Campbell
University of Wisconsin Extension Environmental Resources Center and University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute