Students Remove Invasive Plants

Enhance Wildlife Habitat

Students removed invasive plants from several natural areas in Milwaukee County, Wis. and replanted native species to enhance wildlife habitat, restore water quality, and personally engage with restoration efforts.


Within the most developed region of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee County Park System and Natural Areas Program is an ecological hotspot. These sites contain over 595 native plant species and provide crucial habitat for amphibians and birds. And with 75 percent of the remaining green space in Milwaukee County, the park system connects residents with the outdoors. Unfortunately, the parks have become infested by a variety of invasive plant species, altering the natural ecosystems, increasing erosion, and degrading wildlife habitat.

Thanks to a grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Milwaukee County Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture has taken steps to remove invasive plants and restore these natural areas. The department identified 32 priority sites, targeting invasive populations that were still small enough to feasibly eradicate. They then recruited students from local high schools and colleges, including a combination of student volunteers and paid summer jobs. The student workers were trained to recognize invasive species and properly remove them, utilizing a combination of hand cutting, mowing, and herbicides applied by field technicians. Some of the older students were also trained to map invasive populations using online data programs, recording population sizes and the type of treatment used to remove them. Following invasive removal, students planted native trees and shrubs to restore natural communities and reforest open areas.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Invasive species
  • habitat degradation
  • Polluted sediment build up
  • Water quality



Students pose for a picture after removing invasive species

Students take a break from a day of removing invasive plants in Milwaukee County, Wis. Credit: Milwaukee County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Culture.

Results and Accomplishments

32 natural areas encompassing 1,300 acres of wildlife habitat were ecologically restored. Native plant diversity has increased, and surveys are being conducted to assess the impact on native wildlife populations. Removing invasives and replanting natives has helped reduce erosion and sediment build-up, and provides buffers to filter out pollutants, ultimately improving Lake Michigan’s water quality. Restoring these natural areas has enhanced outdoor recreation, and involving students in this work helps connect them with the outdoors and develop professional career skills. Several of the field technicians hired by the department are recent college graduates who were trained through this grant program.