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You are here: Home / Manager's Tool Kit / Early Detection and Rapid Response / The Early Detectives / Northeast Wisconsin Master Gardners Program: Gypsy Moths
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Early Detection and Rapid Response

The Early Detectives: How to Use Volunteers Against Invasive Species, Case Studies of Volunteer Early Detection Programs in the U.S.

Northeast Wisconsin Master Gardeners Program: Gypsy Moths

Contacts: Paul Hartman, Horticulture Agent, Brown County Extension Office
E-mail: Paul.Hartman@ces.uwex.edu
Phone: (920) 391-4610


The University of Wisconsin-Extension implemented the Master Gardener program in Brown County, Wisconsin, in 1980. The purpose of the program is to have trained volunteers help county UW-Extension horticultural staff reach out to a greater number of people who are interested in, or have questions about, gardening than the Extension staff can provide alone.

The program to detect and control Gypsy Moths began in 1999. It was a one-year program that utilized the Master Gardeners Program already in existence. Their invasive species programs on Purple Loosestrife, Garlic Mustard, and several other species had already been in place for several years, and thus, they were able to utilize many of the lessons and techniques that were learned over the past eight or so years. These Master Gardeners Programs are located within counties across much of the U.S., and could be used as a springboard for new volunteer early detection programs. The pilot program that dealt specifically with the Gypsy Moth "started as a result of a high number of moth sightings in the county." The volunteers were responsible for most of the work that the early detection program entailed.

Each volunteer was sent out on a route somewhere within the county in order to survey that area for the moth, collecting data solely based upon what they saw. "No electronic equipment such as GPS units are used in this process - that would be the obvious next step." Once this information was reported, it would all be transferred to a larger county map and a decision on action --usually extermination -- was made. "The homeowners were instructed in this process and as a result often took a central role in eradicating the moth infestations." This process allowed for an identification of infested areas early in the game when it was still possible to stop them before they spread.


The program was very successful with Gypsy Moth. "We were able to save many trees as a result of the data that the volunteers collected." Over 2000 acres have been sprayed as a result of the data. "While many neighboring counties were being forced to cut down whole stands of trees, we were able to avert much of it."

Due to the extensive use of homeowners during the program's existence, many homeowners within the county were educated on the Gypsy Moth and the harm it causes. "Many homeowners that may not have previously seen the moth as a problem or simply did not know of its existence may now actively look for Gypsy Moth on their property." This provides a sense of security for the entire county. Through this program, the county was able to discover potential problems posed by Gypsy Moth before they became real problems and threats to the area's ecosystems and neighborhoods.

Recruitment and Training

To participate in Master Gardener training, people have to fill out a registration form at the County Extension office offering the program and are required to complete training courses. The classes are taught by university personnel including Extension Specialists from the Departments of Horticulture, Plant Pathology and Entomology, horticulture educators, Extension agents and other qualified professionals. Throughout this process, the trainees will receive a minimum of 36 hours of in-depth classroom training on soils, botany, entomology, plant pathology, houseplants, landscaping, turf, vegetables, fruits, and ornamental plants. General Training Classes primarily use a video format for teaching with the addition of local customized presentations.

To become a certified Master Gardener, you must complete the minimum 36 hours of training, achieve a 70% or better score on the final exam, and complete at least 36 hours of volunteer service within one year of training. At the completion of all the requirements, you receive an official Master Gardener certificate and name badge. Thus, the Master Gardener Program is a "payback" program as Paul put it. The members are rewarded with accolades, rewards, and a sense of being part of something. "Awards are given yearly to Master Gardeners who have given exceptional service to the program. Recognition pins, ribbons and certificates of achievement are awarded by the Wisconsin Master Gardener Association." The only specific training given to the volunteers in invasives (in this case the Gypsy Moth) is on-site. Also, all of the homeowners are trained by the Master Gardeners on site by performing the eradication procedures and teaching them how to eradicate the moths themselves.

Challenges of the Program

Unlike other volunteer programs, this Gypsy Moth program did not have to deal very heavily with motivating the volunteers or homeowners to take part. This is because of the great threat that the Gypsy Moth posed to the homeowners' trees as well as the risk they posed to the overall natural beauty of the county. "In general, people welcomed the Master Gardeners, and were very open and thankful for their advice and help in getting rid of the Gypsy Moth infestation upon their property." They were successful in getting a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in order to fund the program.

For public education, the program used the mass media. They wrote articles, took out ads in newspapers, wrote opinion columns, and often submitted press releases. Also, conferences and workshops were held.

The greatest difficulty, the spread of the moth to many of the surrounding counties, forced the ultimate termination of the pilot program dealing with Gypsy Moths. "The program for early detection was stopped because the areas affected by the Gypsy Moth are now so widespread." Now more emphasis is placed upon control of the moth.

Data Uses

The data that the volunteers were able to collect about the locations of Gypsy Moth infestations throughout the county led to control and eradication efforts for the moth. Over two thousand acres of land were sprayed within Brown County, Wisconsin as a result.

Quick Facts

Staffing: 3 paid

Species Targeted: Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar)

Habitats Patrolled: Terrestrial, Deciduous forests

Location: USA, Wisconsin, Brown County

Report prepared by: Byron DeLuke


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Last Modified: Sep 23, 2017
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