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MADISON — May is wetlands month and a growing corps of volunteers are pulling on their boots to help check the condition of wetlands and the frogs, shore birds and other creatures that depend upon them.
• Volunteers in southeastern Wisconsin are searching seasonal wetlands known as “ephemeral ponds” for frog and salamander egg masses and fairy shrimp and listening to frog calls.
• Volunteers statewide participating in the Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey are stopping near wetlands to listen for frog and toad calls, helping Wisconsin continue the nation’s oldest survey of its kind. Volunteers are still needed for routes in areas indicated by the green pins.
• Volunteers statewide will be looking for marsh birds such as rails, bitterns, coots and grebes as part of the Wisconsin Marshbird Survey. This survey is looking for advanced volunteers ready for strenuous hiking and some bushwhacking in search of the secretive marsh birds.
• Volunteers will participate in the first year of the new Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program, aimed at helping document the most deadly road crossing for turtles so turtle crossing signs can be erected and other measures taken.
“We’re seeing enthusiastic response from people who want to get out and get their boots wet,” says Tom Bernthal, wetland monitoring and assessment coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “They are wetland lovers and these kinds of surveys give them something concrete to do to help support the critters that use wetlands.”
Other opportunities for helping collect information about other wetland plants and animals and wetlands themselves are available through the Citizen-based Monitoring Network of Wisconsin, a group of more than 150 organizations that recruit and train volunteers to help report on the natural world around them.
The volunteer opportunities are particularly important at this time of year as state scientists seek help collecting information about seasonal wetlands and their inhabitants. Such wetlands may be dry most of the year except when snowmelt and spring rains fill them for a few vital weeks or months, Bernthal says.
Wood frogs, once they literally thaw at the end of winter, are often the first to arrive at ephemeral ponds in the spring. Their duck-like call has been heard in much of the southern half of the state for the last couple of weeks is just now beginning farther north where ponds are thawing, says Drew Feldkirchner, a DNR conservation biologist.
The wood frogs are “explosive breeders” and typically deposit their egg masses communally in large aggregations before adults return to terrestrial habitats, he says. A single egg mass can contain up to 1,000 eggs.
Bernthal, who helped start the Wisconsin Ephemeral Ponds Project, says that the volunteers searching seasonal wetlands in southeastern Wisconsin are gathering information that will help identify which are most important for producing frogs and salamanders. Training sessions were held earlier this spring by partners at the Riveredge Nature Center, Milwaukee county parks, UW-Parkside, and Concordia University-Mequon.
“We’re looking for ephemeral ponds that are good sources for amphibian population because we need amphibians,” Bernthal says. “They are such an important part of the food chain and some of the species are under pressure.”
More information about Wisconsin’s frog, salamanders and turtles, including videos and photos, can be found on the Herps of Wisconsin webpage.
Ephemeral wetlands are among more than a dozen kinds in Wisconsin, everything from forests along lakes and streams, to meadows – even wet prairies and shrub thickets. Wetlands all share the following characteristics: water-loving plants, wet soils, and evidence of water.
Wisconsin had an estimated 10 million acres of wetlands before becoming a state in 1848. Over the decades, nearly half of those wetlands – or 4.7 million acres – were drained or filled to make way for farms, cities, roads and factories. Wetlands are now recognized for their importance as fish and wildlife nurseries, clean water filters, flood storage and recreational areas and are protected by state and federal rules and in some places, by local regulations or ordinances as well.