Overview and Success
The University of Wisconsin-Extension implemented the Master Gardener program in 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 Purple Loosestrife started around 1991. This program utilized the Master Gardeners Program that already was in existence, and thus, was able to use resources that were already there. Paul was quick to point out that these Master Gardeners Programs are all over the country and thus, represent a good tool in the battle to detect invasive species before they cause a problem or become established within an ecosystem.
During the first several years of the program, the volunteers did all of the work in reporting and responding to the invasives. The strategy was to send each volunteer out on a route somewhere within the county to collect data 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 what action should be taken in response was made.
The control strategy for volunteers was to start with smaller pockets first and move outward from there. Paul phrased this as "divide and conquer." First you need to survey the population and then control small populations first. Perhaps invasives could be addressed on a county-by-county basis using the Master Gardeners program or other volunteers like Audubon, etc.
The program has been very successful with Purple Loosestrife. "We have been able to wipe out the largest infestations of Purple Loosestrife within the area," but "there is always more work to be done." They were also able to create and send a fact sheet out to surrounding counties. This fact sheet outlined the various invasive species such as Purple Loosestrife and Garlic Mustard, gave a description of the species and an overview of the problem. It also described how to organize a county suppression effort on invasives. Overall, the major success of the program lies in the fact that they were able to discover potential problems because of the use of volunteers before they became real problems and threats to the area's ecosystems and neighborhoods.
Recruitment and Training
Along with the Master Gardeners, this program used an extensive outreach program to garner more support and help. The existing volunteers were also integral to this process, and in fact, "many ideas actually came straight from the volunteers." Some of the ways that this was accomplished were through conferences, brochures, and "basically educating the general public about the problem through the mass media." They wrote articles, opinion columns, and press releases and took out ads in newspapers.
To participate in Master Gardener training, people are required to complete training courses taught by university personnel including Extension Specialists from the Departments of Horticulture, Plant Pathology and Entomology, Extension agents and other qualified professionals. Throughout this process, the trainees receive a minimum of 36 hours of in-depth classroom training on a variety of horticulture topics including 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.
The Master Gardener Program is a "pay back" program. A certain amount of volunteer work is required and in response the members are rewarded with accolades, rewards, and a sense of being part of something (community). "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." Finally, the only specific training given to the volunteers in invasives is on-site.
Challenges of the Program
One of the major factors in the success of this program as well as others like it are insuring that the volunteers make up a central role in the process. Thus, organizers need to get their volunteers involved in the decision-making process and planning right from the very beginning of the project. In this way, they do not get the feeling that all of the information or data that they are collecting is simply going to waste. This assures that the volunteers will feel a sense of accomplishment at what they are doing and will continue on with their efforts. The Master Gardeners program also has annual dinners and awards programs to further give volunteers a sense of accomplishment and success, or a feeling that they are part of something.
The biggest struggle is with funding. This program for Purple Loosestrife needed to solicit money from various resources and organizations. These have varied from government organizations to NGOs to private companies or businesses. The fundraising was done mostly by the agent, Paul Hartman.
In 1995/1996, the volunteer program for Purple Loosestrife turned into a program with paid staff. At this time, the program began using biological control agents. The most useful turned out to be the Galerucella beetles. These beetles feed on leaves until flowering begins when they switch to feeding on the flowers, thereby preventing seed production. This is a critical means of preventing spread of Purple Loosestrife seeds which can be washed downstream for miles. Since the outset of the biological control of Purple Loosestrife, the Master Gardeners have taken a leadership role with the collection and release of the beetles. Thus, they have been central to the program and are responsible for duties that some may have thought would be too complicated for volunteers to take part in. However as Paul stated, "the volunteers basically did all the work once the action was initiated by us" (meaning the staff). Also much of the data collected and work done by the volunteers in the field helps with research on biocontrol of Purple Loosestrife.
Staffing: 3 paid
Species Targeted: Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Habitats Patrolled: Purple Loosestrife is an herbaceous, wetland perennial that grows in a wide range of habitats.
Location: USA, Brown County, Wisconsin
Report prepared by: Byron Deluke