The Monroe County Invasive Species Working Group (MCISWG) is a partnership of agencies, tribes and private citizens with a mission to help manage invasive species and educate Monroe County residents. Purple loosestrife is an invasive plant of wetlands, it is not native to Wisconsin, or the US. Once it gets going can quickly dominate our natural wetlands, smothering out other beneficial plants and changing the ecosystem to the detriment of wildlife and hydrology.
If you have just a few loosestrife plants in an occurrence it should be possible to manage by pulling those plants and disposing of them, so they do not resprout there or somewhere else. There are herbicide sprays that will kill the plant at the right stage of growth but spraying herbicides in a wetland is really a tricky business. So, it was a great thing when after tons of testing and research some bio controls (bugs that eat invasive plants and keep populations in check), were introduced. Eventually, many schools and other groups got involved in rearing these bugs including Sparta High School. Once the bugs are reared in sufficient quantities, they can be released to sites with populations of purple loosestrife. Two years ago, the West Beaver Creek 4-H group signed paperwork with the Wisconsin DNR to allow them to move bugs from one site to another. The group helped assemble a 12’W x 12’ L 6’ H tent frame in a marshy area of private land off Avon Road in Sparta. With assistance from members of the MCISWG they learned to identify purple loosestrife plants from the other plants in the wet field. Using shovels, buckets and sometimes bare hands, the group moved some extra plants into the tent area. What a great time they had! We already have a population of the bug Galerucella (“Cella”) beetles on the Avon Road site, so we skipped rearing beetles (involves a kiddy swimming pool, usually in a greenhouse, with netting over a frame) and in early July of 2019 we simply pulled a presown “tent” over the frame we had constructed during a previous 4-H meeting and shoveled mud over the bottom of all 4 sides. There are also zippered doors on one side of the “mass rearing cage” to gain access. At the next “meeting” we used modified pop bottles to collect “Cella” beetles from plants outside the tent and released them inside. About a month later we took a road trip to a site at the other end of Sparta with some beetles we harvested, in our modified pop bottles and a little damp paper towel to plug the hole and allow them to keep hydrated. The group released the beetles into a new patch of Purple Loosestrife. We had hoped for more beetles from the tent, one problem may have been the tent was old, and even though we patched holes, maybe it was time for a new tent. Which brings us to the thought – there is a new tent available. MCISWG can arrange to have it brought to Sparta if there is a group interested in taking over the West Beaver Creek 4 H project.
We would be careful to follow current COVID-19 guidelines that are in place or we all feel comfortable with, that will mean masking and social distancing in 2021. The first meeting could be held quite soon to go over the idea, inspect the frame, perhaps build a steppingstone path to the door area of the tent, it really does get muddy! And maybe move a few more loose strife plants inside with shovels and buckets.
It would also be a good time for the 4-H leader to go over the agreement with Wisconsin DNR to participate in the program and enable legal movement of plant and bugs, although a lot of this could be done via email ahead of time. There is also a “Cella” “book” with different “classroom” projects and experiments laid out as a curriculum.
Long term, biocontrol will probably not totally eliminate the Purple Loosestrife, but it stunts them and slows the spread a lot. It could be that at a certain point we can consider options to plant native plants that may outcompete and return these wetlands to a more natural state.
Let me know if your group is interest as soon as possible. Mic Armstrong is the local MCISWG contact and can coordinate trips out to the Avon Road site with the group even on weekends or evenings.
Mic Armstrong, Soil Conservation Technician
820 Industrial Drive, Suite 3
Sparta, WI 54656
Call 608-269 8136 Ext. 118 or email John.firstname.lastname@example.org