Become a Citizen Scientist with Wisconsin First Detector Network

        Did you want to be a scientist when you grew up?  No?  Me neither.  That’s why I majored in Business in college.  I don’t know why people are expected to know what they want to do with their lives when they are still teenagers.  By age 30 or so most people have a better understanding of themselves and the world’s possibilities so that seems like a better age to make long term career decisions.  However, by 30 most people are too entrenched in their too-early chosen careers and family life to make sweeping changes. 

        It’s not too late though to become a citizen scientist with Wisconsin’s First Detector Network.  Since you are reading Badger Sportsman, it’s fair to assume that you love the outdoors and spend as much time there as you can.  That makes you uniquely qualified for the citizen scientist position.  You should keep your day job by the way, as there is no financial reward, but you’ll have the satisfaction of contributing an invaluable service to Wisconsin’s natural environment.

        Wisconsin First Detector Network (WIFDN) is a citizen science network that empowers people to take action against invasive species through invasive species monitoring, management and outreach. WIFDN provides training and resources through a combination of webinars, instructional videos, fact sheets, and hands-on workshops, in addition to providing interesting and fun volunteer opportunities to citizen scientists. 

        Invasive species are considered the number two threat to biodiversity, second only to habitat loss.  The effects of invasive species are increasingly evident on Wisconsin’s landscape.  Despite efforts by federal and state agencies, non-native plants, insects, and diseases continue to establish and spread throughout our state, impacting our economy and environment.  While some of these pests are here to stay, many others have not yet been found in Wisconsin, or are found at low enough levels that eradication may still be possible.  Efforts to prevent new introductions and to identify new infestations before they become well established are the best way to ensure the survival of many of Wisconsin’s iconic plants, animals, and ecosystems.  That’s where you come in as a citizen scientist.

        You can find out more about WIFDN’s opportunities for citizen scientists (and learn a whole lot about invasive species) here, but let me give you some highlights and possibilities.

        WIFDN is desperate to know and document when new invasive species arrive in Wisconsin before they gain a foothold and can’t be eradicated.  Examples of way-too-late-for-eradication species are buckthorn, garlic mustard and purple loosestrife.  There are many, many people battling these invasive plants.   Sometimes they are successful in isolated areas, but there is zero chance of completely eradicating them from our state since they are so widespread.  That’s why we need to be on top of newcomer invasives while there is still a chance to wipe them out. 

        One of WIFDN’s goals this year is to get 10 reports on invasive plants from every one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.  Their website helps you to identify invasive terrestrial and aquatic plants, plant diseases and animals.  Believe me, you already know some of these so you don’t have to do a lot of studying to make a report.  Unless you want to do a lot of studying, which would be great!

        To make it easy, there are three possible ways to report an invasive species.  One is right from your smartphone with the GLEDN app that you can get here:    Second, you can make a report from your home computer here:  Don’t worry – both places have video tutorials to help if you aren’t able to figure it out on your own. 

        If you are not comfortable using these resources, you can record the location of the infestation using a GPS unit or by marking it down on a detailed map.  Then, contact your local park staff, WIFDN ( or Wisconsin DNR (

to ensure that the information is incorporated into the system.   Include the location and approximate size of the infestation (# of individuals, area covered, etc.) photos if possible to help staff confirm identification of the species, and your contact information.

        WIFDN has a program specifically for identifying and reporting aquatic invasive species called Pond Watchers.  You choose a park with a pond or other small waterbody either public or private, and either survey it periodically or do a one-time look-see.  WIFDN will help you learn what plants to look for and help you find a pond to survey if you don’t know of one. 

        Emerald ash borer has become a serious threat to Wisconsin’s ash tree population.  There is a native stingless wasp called Cerceris fumipennis that preys on the emerald ash borer and WIFDN would like to know where these wasps are most active.  It turns out that they commonly make their nests in baseball diamonds that aren’t regularly groomed.  Like maybe your local high school field after the season ends or your local park diamond if the city budget doesn’t allow for constant grooming.  WIFDN will teach you what to look for and how to report signs of the native wasp.  You can survey the baseball diamond just one time or once a week from July through September.  It’s a lot of fun and you can tell your friends you are doing biosurveillance!

        If you’d like to try on being a citizen scientist for just one day, join the River Alliance of Wisconsin and UW-Extension’s Citizen Lake Monitoring Network for a statewide survey of aquatic invasive species on our rivers and lakes on Saturday, August 17, 2019 for Statewide Aquatic Invasive Species Snapshot Day.  There are several locations across the state.  The day begins with training at each monitoring site.  You don’t have to have any prior knowledge of invasive species at all to participate.

        The monitoring sites vary from public parks on large rivers, to culverts on country roads spanning small trout streams, to frequently used boat launches on local lakes.  At some sites you might want to wade in to get a better look, while at other sites volunteers will be asked to simply observe from the safety of the shore with binoculars and rakes.  Don’t worry – you don’t have to wade in if you’d rather not.  Children over the age of 8 are welcome to participate.

        You can find more information on Snapshot Day here:

        Take a day or more to become a citizen scientist with WIFDN and help protect and preserve our precious Wisconsin outdoors!

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