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Educating public workers about aquatic invasive pests

The Issue

Aquatic invasive species cause significant economic and ecological problems. Quagga and zebra mussels clog water supply systems and deplete plankton; their sharp shells endanger people who work, boat or fish in lakes. Tiny New Zealand mudsnails, which are poor food for fish, displace native snails. Invasive bullfrogs and clawed frogs voraciously consume native species and carry a disease that has decimated native frog populations. Dense mats of invasive waterweeds, such as hydrilla, spongeplant and water hyacinth, slow water flow in streams and irrigation channels, block boats, and kill native species by blocking out sunlight and causing oxygen levels to fall. However, much of the damage can be reduced if people who work in aquatic habitats are trained. They can help lower the risks of spreading invasive species to new areas and serve as eyes and ears for resource agencies with a mission to manage and control these pests.

What Has ANR Done?

In spring 2013, UCCE advisors in Southern California conducted six workshops for 181 staff members of local public works, parks, watersheds and flood control agencies as well as for staff members of a UC Research and Extension Center. The participants learned how to recognize 25 aquatic invasive species, decontaminate their field gear, plan their work to reduce risks of spreading these pests, and report sightings to resource agencies. Forty-nine percent of the participants were minorities and 29 percent were women. Through hands-on exercises, they practiced identifying species, detecting them in mud, inspecting boats and decontaminating boots. The advisors distributed decks of laminated reference cards (with photographs and information), which they created, at workshops. They also wrote blog articles to extend the workshop information widely.

The workshops were supported in part by the USDA Renewable Resources Extension Act and the counties of San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura.

The Payoff

Training increases ability to detect and prevent spread of aquatic pests

The participants significantly increased their ability to identify aquatic invasive species and their environmental impacts, their knowledge of how to report sightings, and their skills on how to decontaminate their gear and avoid spreading these pests. According to survey results, 80 to 90 percent of participants reported learning this information for the first time at one of the workshops. Within the first few following months, agencies reported having made changes. Two agencies implemented new or improved their existing decontamination protocols for field gear and planned their work accordingly to prevent the spread of aquatic pests. Two agencies educated the public on how to prevent the spread of pests by posting signs and talking to visitors at lakes. Five aquatic pest sightings were reported to field supervisors and a New Zealand mudsnail infestation was reported to three natural resources agencies. Altogether, these actions will help to prevent the spread of pests in areas where the workshops were conducted - all 2.5 million acres. More than 14,000 additional people learned about aquatic invasive pests from the advisors' blog articles that were based on their workshops.

Clientele Testimonial

"We used the workshop information to modify a permit to prevent a fire-fighting, water-dropping demonstration from spreading quagga mussels from an infested lake to an uninfested stream." - Cathy Nowak, Sustainability Planner with the Orange County Parks Department


Supporting Unit: Los Angeles County

UCCE San Diego, UCCE Los Angeles, UCCE Ventura, UCCE Orange and South Coast Research and Extension Center
Leigh Johnson (858) 822-7802, ltjohnson@ucanr.edu
Sabrina Drill (626) 586-1975, sldrill@ucanr.edu
Darren Haver (949) 653-1814, dlhaver@ucanr.edu