RED CEDAR LAKE– In late July the Birchwood Blue Hills Charter School (BBHCS) collaborated with the Red Cedar Lake Association and the Washburn County Land and Water Department to raise purple loosestrife control beetles for release into a wetland area.

Purple loosestrife is an aquatic invasive plant that appeared in the United States in the early 1800s from Eurasia. It is a woody plant with a square stem and tall purple spike with tiny purple flowers. Introduced as a garden perennial plant, the aesthetically pleasing invasive has aggressive roots and strong tolerances to water quality and diverse environmental conditions. The plant chokes out native species by blocking off waterways and produces an astonishing 1 million seeds per year, extending its reach every season. It can be found growing along shorelines or in ditches.

In late April, purple loosestrife rootstock was dug up. The Birchwood students planted the roots into large pots with soil. Twenty buckets were set into two large plastic swimming pools with water to grow. Fine mesh nets was placed over the plants to help them grow straight.

In July, the beetles were placed inside each netted plant. The beetles mated, laid eggs, and hatched to create a new population. They devoured the stems and leaves of the plants, effectively weakening them and eventually killing them.

These beetles have been known to fly as far as a mile to find food. They will not cover windows like the Asian lady beetle, and people likely will not even see them unless they are searching for them.

The newly hatched beetles were placed into individual nets, and the pots containing new beetles were moved out to Red Cedar Lake only a few miles from where they were raised. Release points were determined from where past infestations were documented.

Students, county staff, and members of Red Cedar Lake Nature Committee teamed up in canoes to release 1,000 beetle into an area infested with the purple loosestrife.

Since the project began in 2011, approximately 30,000 biocontrol beetles have been released in Red Cedar Lake and wetlands in the surrounding area.

“It’s an incredible experience to see an active group of students invested and working hard to protect the lake,” said Lisa Burns, conservation coordinator for the Washburn County Land and Water Conservation Department. “It’s heartening to see youth showing passion and interest in protecting our natural resources. A special thanks to advisor, Jenny Landes, for continued interest this project.

For more information on the program or other invasive species: Burns, lburns@co.washburn.wi.us.

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