STEVENS POINT – A Vilas County woman who launched efforts to measure lake levels, a Kickapoo Valley man who completes dozens of bat surveys a year and recruits others to do the same, and an Oconto County youth who has monitored bluebird and other bird populations in her area are among Wisconsin citizens recognized for their outstanding work to collect information important to managing and conserving Wisconsin’s waters and wildlife.
Wisconsin’s Citizen-based Monitoring Network presented the awards earlier this month during the 7th Citizen-based Monitoring Conference in Stevens Point. The Department of Natural Resources and more than 150 organizations with monitoring programs formed the network in 2004 to improve their effectiveness by providing communications, resources and recognition.
“These are people who are contributing hands-on, on-the-ground, every day to the land and water around them,” says Eva Lewandowski, who coordinates the Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Program for DNR. “They are not only providing important information for managing Wisconsin’s resources, but are helping get more people involved as well.”
A listing of award winners, their hometown, and a brief description of their work follows.
Milwaukee County Parks Natural Areas Program, Citizen-based Monitoring Program of the Year
This county program is using citizen-based monitoring as a way to engage the public in wildlife research and gain more scientific data to guide restoration decisions on the county’s 10,000 acres of natural areas. In 2014, staff engaged citizen monitors to inventory and document 430 seasonal or “ephemeral” ponds and followed up in 2015 with aquatic studies. Program staff developed in-class training opportunities as well as hands-on field days for citizens to hone their monitoring skills. Volunteers confirmed populations of tiger and blue-spotted salamanders, discovered the first spotted salamander documented in their county since 1935, a new population of wood frogs (previously only 1 population was known), and 3 new populations of Wisconsin’s rarest native crayfish, the Digger’s crayfish.
Ben Johnston of Wilton, Outstanding Achievement in Citizen-based Monitoring
Johnston is recognized for his work to conduct wildlife surveys in the 8,600-acre Kickapoo Valley Reserve and build the ranks of citizen scientists in southwestern Wisconsin. He has conducted an average of more than 30 walking surveys a year to detect bats, and has recruiting other volunteers to get involved in the survey as well. Johnston has also recruited volunteers to submit turtle road crossing reports aimed at reducing the number of turtles killed by cars, and has recruited volunteers to participate in frog and toad surveys.
Nancy Carlson of Racine, Outstanding Achievement in Citizen-based Monitoring
Carlson created a program that helps more than 3,000 Racine 4th and 7th graders understand through hands-on outdoors activities and investigations how their daily activities impact water quality, fish and other aquatic life in the Root River and Lake Michigan watershed. Carlson also visits classrooms to help reinforce what students have learned in the field, and has helped establish partnerships with area nature centers and governmental institutions.
Anne Kretschmann of Manitowish Waters, Outstanding Achievement in Citizen-based Monitoring
Kretschmann was honored for her role in starting the first citizen-based lake level monitoring program in Wisconsin in 2008. To address local concerns about dramatic lake level declines, she recruited a retired surveyor, established permanent water level benchmarks on a subset of local lakes, installed staff gauges and recruited local citizens to make weekly water level readings. Now she volunteers to monitor more than 40 lakes across Vilas County and she has coordinated a companion program with the Lac du Flambeau tribe.
Amber H. Van Den Heuvel of Oconto, Outstanding Achievement in Youth Monitoring
Van Den Heuvel participated in projects to monitor everything from amphibians to botulism levels on Great Lakes shorelines to bluebirds and bats. She served as her county coordinator for the Annual Midwest Crane Count and helped establish half of the nine bluebird trails within the city. She also helps monitor wood duck and purple martin houses for Bird City Oconto.
Kris Stepenuck of Burlington, VT, 2016 David N. Redell Award for Lifetime Achievement in Citizen-based Monitoring
Stepenuck, who coordinated the Water Action Volunteers stream monitoring program from 2001-2015, was honored for her work to build citizen-based monitoring in Wisconsin and the country. Stepenuck built the WAV program into a hugely successful, nationally renowned program, co-authored “Exploring Streams,” a stream monitoring curriculum for middle and high school students, helped found the national Citizen Science Association and serves on its board, and was a member of the Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Network. Stepenuck is now an assistant professor at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.