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Great Lakes Article:

County seeks volunteers in fight against purple loosestrife
By Eric LaRose
The Eagle Herald, Marinette and Menominee, WI
08/01/03


MARINETTE -- It seems out of place, the purple accent of color in the ditches along the roads and shorelines of northern Wisconsin, and quite frankly it is.

While it may look pretty, the plant, purple loosestrife, is rapidly degrading wetlands, and diminishing their value as wildlife habitats.

Now, Marinette County is applying two techniques to find the aggressive invaders, and destroy them.

Purple loosestrife arrived in the United States back in the early 1800s when they were brought to the country by European settlers, who thought they provided a nice splash of color in their flower gardens.

Unfortunately, the plants, which multiply rapidly and are hard to get rid of, have spread across much of Canada and the United States and are threatening hundreds of species of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, fish, amphibians and are encroaching on farmer's crops and pasture land.

Now finding and destroying the plants are high priorities.

Amanda Kostner, Education Coordinator with the Marinette County Land and Water Conservation Office, said two plans the county is using include getting volunteers to travel the county's waterways, looking for the purple loosestrife, and raising and releasing beetles to eat the plants.

"The two kind of intertwine," said Kostner in an interview. "Basically, they are doing the survey to find out where the loosestrife is, so they can, when they do raise the beetles, they know where to let them go."

The purple loosestrife surveys are done in conjunction with a program developed by the Wisconsin Wetlands Association.

Kostner said that last year, groups of people in cars drove around the county looking for the purple pest, and mapping where they found them. This year, since the plant can thrive around streams and lakes, they are asking for help from people with boats.

"We have one group that is connected to the Middle Inlet Moonshiners 4-H Club, and they're getting their teens involved," said Kostner who added that the group would be concentrating their efforts on Lake Noquebay and its inlets and outlets.

They are still looking for more volunteers and the information volunteers gather will also be available on the Internet.

As Kostner said, the information received will be used to map out where they will release the Galerucella beetle, which feeds exclusively on the loosestrife plants.

Kostner said that the process of raising the beetles isn't very complicated and only requires a few materials.

"The beetles reproduce quite a bit. When your raising them, you start out with 10 beetles, and you start off with 10 (loosestrife) plants, so they have something to eat while they are growing. You have to grow them in a contained area," said Kostner. "You end up with 100 that you release out into the areas with loosestrife."

Once the beetles have been released they eat the plants. So far, the beetles have been shown to do a better job than pulling the loosestrife by hand or using a herbicide. Both pulling the plants and poisoning them do work, but they don't work well.

"(The beetles) been found to be the most effective way to control it. Purple loosestrife spreads really fast, and to go out and pull it by hand would be impossible, there's no way you're pulling all that out," said Kostner. "These beetles, they only eat loosestrife, so when they've eaten themselves out of house and home, their populations will decrease."

Kostner did say that there is no way to completely wipe out the purple loosestrife plant, but they are trying to prevent the plants from spreading and destroying habitats and wetlands.

For further information on volunteering or the Galerucella beetle call Amanda Kostner at (715) 732-7784.

To view maps of the affected areas, consult the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission's Web site, www.glifwc-maps.org.

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