The Biologist Life in the Big City
BY ASHLEY SMITH, GREEN BAY FWCO
Coming from conducting field work in Alaska and northern Minnesota, I wasn’t sure what to expect in my new position working on Lake Michigan for the Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO). Would I be sampling among the sand dunes in Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore? Or along the remote shores of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? Not exactly. The Green Bay FWCO Aquatic Invasive Species program is focused on finding nonnative species when they first appear in Lake Michigan, before they become too widespread and when they are easier and less costly to control. This requires looking for nonnative species in the spots they are most likely to first arrive, which includes areas of high population densities. Most nonnative species are introduced via the pet trade and aquarium releases, or through the emptying of ballast water in shipping vessels. In order to reflect this, our model for predicting where new nonnative species will pop up is heavily weighted towards population centers and highly trafficked shipping ports. We used this model to pick out five introduction “hot spot” sites to focus our sampling on: Green Bay, Milwaukee, Chicago, Calumet Harbor, and Burns Harbor in the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana.
Conducting field work in big cities presents a whole different set of challenges than working in remote areas. While some of the logistics such as where to stay and how to get to field sites are much simpler, other issues are much more difficult. Setting nets near marinas can sometimes confuse boaters who accidentally run in to them, and occasionally equipment is stolen or tampered with by the curious. Choosing where to leave boats overnight can also be difficult when the hotel parking lot was not made to accommodate three large boats. In addition, navigating boat, truck and trailer to and from the boat launch through places like downtown Chicago can be difficult to say the least!
Luckily, there are some advantages to working out of urban areas as well. One of my favorite parts of the job is interacting with members of the public, who often see us dressed in uniform and launching unusual looking boats, and come over to ask us questions. We get to explain our mission and the mission of the Service, and they come to a deeper understanding of the lake they live near, and the challenges we all face in keeping invasive species out of our waters.