Teaching PlayCleanGo, One School Forest at a Time

By: Barb Spears, School Forest Specialist, MN Department of Natural Resources

When you think of Minnesota, 10,000 lakes probably comes to mind! We have plenty of lakes but we also have 17 million acres of forest—and, unfortunately, plenty of invasive plants, animals, and microorganisms to deal with. Luckily, we also have over 130 School Forests in which to teach our kids about PlayCleanGo (PCG).

Established in 1949 by state statute, the Minnesota School Forest Program, administered by the MN Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Division of Forestry, supports educators in using outdoor classrooms to teach students about science, technology, engineering, math, art, language arts, and social studies. School Forests range in size from less than half an acre to more than 300 acres. No matter their size, they provide an educational opportunity for students to gain an appreciation for and awareness of natural resources—including the impacts of invasive species.

In addition to using the School Forest as an outdoor classroom, enrolled schools agree to manage their School Forest in a sustainable manner. Each school has an assigned DNR forester who prepares a School Forest Stewardship Plan and advises them on land management. These plans not only provide schools with information on how to sustainably manage their forest, they now include more details on how to identify, treat, remove, and monitor invasive species. For example, the plans provide links (including a link to PCG), resources, and recommendations, such as installing boot brush stations.

students by sign The 2017 CCM crew and community
volunteers at Edgewood School Forest.
Photo courtesy Minnesota DNR.

In 2016, the Minnesota School Forest Program received a 3-year grant from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) to help School Forests create inspiring, accessible, healthy, and safe outdoor learning areas. The ENRTF grant covers the costs of a crew from the Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) to provide the labor, tools, and equipment for projects at 60 School Forests. Many of these projects involve invasive species management, such as buckthorn removal.

During the project, CCMI involves students in hands-on service learning related to the projects; they also provide site-specific, hands-on training for School Forest teachers, facility managers, and volunteers. This training builds knowledge and skills necessary for school staff to manage their School Forest and maintain their outdoor classroom.

Each year the Minnesota School Forest Program staff provides training for the CCMI crew in basic tree and forestry concepts, best education practices, and some land management skills, including PCG. CCMI crews then incorporate this information into their student service-learning and adult trainings. CCMI crews receive a supply of the PCG rack cards and buckthorn publications to distribute at each project site. They also have a supply of the PCG boot brushes to demonstrate with students and adults the importance of cleaning footwear before entering and leaving School Forests.

Some schools such as Edgewood School Forest, have installed boot brush stations and PCG invasive species signs featuring common invasive plants to be aware of.

The Minnesota School Forest Program is doing its part to teach school staff, students and community volunteers about PlayCleanGo concepts—one School Forest at a time. We hope these efforts will help reduce the impacts of invasive species on Minnesota’s forested lands.

Selecting the Best Invasive Plant Treatment Method

By: Clair Ryan, Midwest Invasive Plant Network

images of control methods categoriesThere are a lot of ways to control invasive plants. Practitioners commonly break these methods into four categories: (1) physical methods such as mowing, chopping or hand pulling, (2) biological control through the release of an approved biocontrol agent, (3) chemical control through use of herbicides, and (4) cultural controls such as canopy thinning and manipulation of fire regimes. With so many management practices available, it can be difficult to know which will be most effective in any given situation. The Midwest Invasive Plant Network (MIPN) designed its Control Database (MIPN Invasive Plant Control Database) with this issue in mind.

The Control Database allows users to run custom searches of control methods for 49 species of invasive plants common in the Midwest. Once the species is selected, the user can refine the search by the habitat type and season in which control will take place, the minimum desired effectiveness of the method both during the season of treatment and in the following year, and the level of expertise of the people who will be applying the method. Descriptions of each method include recommendations to maximize effectiveness and realistic assessments of method limitations. Descriptions of chemical methods include various application methods, application rates, and cautions about environmental considerations.

screen image of control databaseWhen MIPN built the database, we used the findings of published peer-reviewed studies as frequently as possible. However, we also included the unpublished but none-the-less vital observations and experiences of expert practitioners in the field, including university agronomists and managers of public and private lands. A key feature of the Control Database is that users can add their own case studies to make it even more valuable to others by describing what method they used, where they used it, and how effective it was in controlling the species in question. If funding permits, MIPN plants to expand the database to include more species.

MIPN is an active PlayCleanGo Partner.

What Have We Accomplished?

As PlayCleanGo grows, potential partners and sponsors are asking what the campaign has accomplished. That’s a great question. Our respective administrators want to know what they are getting for their investment. Sponsors want to know so they can access the potential value added benefit to their marketing. And it’s a great way to acknowledge the many cool ideas, products and services that individual partners have generated. It’s also a critical piece of information needed to support future grant requests and investment opportunities. As such later this month, we will be asking you to complete a survey describing your PlayCleanGo activities. Please watch for the survey and take the time to let us know how things are going. A summary report of the results will be shared with all partners to support local funding raising activities.

Engaging Recreationists and Meeting Partner Needs

PlayCleanGo has two primary audiences with different needs and interests. One group consists of outdoor enthusiasts interested in protecting their favorite outdoor places. The other are those organizations who work with recreationists and landowners to prevent the spread of invasive species. To better understand those two broad audience groups and address their needs relative to aquatic invasive species, PCG recently added two new positions to the PCG Steering Committee.  One position will represent motorized recreationists (boaters and anglers), and the other will represent non-motorized recreationists (paddlers, anglers and water fowl hunters).

We also have a vacancy on the terrestrial side of things in the position representing non-motorized recreationists (hikers, trail runners and bikers). If you are an active participant in any of these sports, we could really use your input. Please fill out the PCG Nomination Form and send it to

The committee has quarterly on-line meetings with email communications in-between. Our next on-line meeting is in July.  If you have questions about what is involved, please contact Susan Burks at 651-259-5251. Or contact any of the current committee members.  Otherwise submit your nomination no later than June 1, 2018.  Thank you.

News from PCG Partners

Playing, Cleaning and Going in Manitowoc!

logo for Woodland DunesBy: Jennifer Klein, Land Management Coordinator, Woodland Dunes Nature Center

“These kids are truly modeling how to have fun in nature and how to protect it at the same time,” said Jennifer Klein, land management coordinator for Woodland Dunes Nature Center.

One way they’re avoiding screen time and getting out there is by rehabilitating and beautifying the Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) in Manitowoc. According to Klein, the CDF is an active dredge spoil disposal site for the harbor, but these partners, including the school kids, are aiming for this place to be known as something much more “cool” and recreational. 

Students planting shrubsAfter the removal of various invasive plants and a non-productive manicured lawn, fifty 2rd and 5th graders from Madison Elementary School in Manitowoc got their hands dirty, dug in, and planted trees and shrubs on Arbor Day 2017. They also helped create an intentional, invasive-free walking path for future users to enjoy while bird watching, hiking, jogging or just relaxing in the beauty of the natural area. Starting nature care at this early age will help these kids develop a life-long environmental ethic that will encourage them to get out there and play more often, and also to preserve their outdoor playground.

Dr. Charles Sontag, a supervisor of the project, has 50 years of daily bird observations at the CDF and has recorded more than 300 bird species. This encouraged the kids and partners to effectively enhance this habitat so they, too, can find a place in the outdoors to enjoy for 50 years.

Woodland Dunes secured funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and created partnerships with the Lakeshore Invasive Species Management Area (LISMA), the City of Manitowoc, and Stantec Consulting, Inc.

What was once a weedy dumping ground has been converted to a beautiful park-like setting. Woodland Dunes welcomes old and new friends to come experience this wonderful change, and to see how people working together under the philosophy of PlayCleanGo make a difference for nature.

NAISMA logoNAISMA Builds Awareness of PlayCleanGo During NISAW

By: Belle Bergner, Executive Director, NAISMA

Belle Bergner, Executive Director of NAISMA (a NISAW sponsor), promoted PCG at the Invasive Species Advisory Council (ISAC) meeting, February 27 – 29, 2018 at the National Museum of the American Indian (an amazing place to visit the next time you find yourself in DC!). On Wednesday, February 28, PCG staffed a booth at the Agency Fair Reception held at the Capitol. The event was a great opportunity to establish connections with staff members working for national and international nonprofit organizations, federal agencies, regional associations, and Congress.

In response to an ISAC request for public input, NAISMA submitted written comments on draft ISAC recommendations . At a public event held that week, Belle provided an overview of NAISMA’s comments urging ISAC members to use its leadership to encourage the use of PCG outreach materials to deliver consistent prevention messaging across the country. Final ISAC recommendations will go to the National Invasive Species Council (NISC), consisting of Presidential Cabinet members and top federal agency leaders.

Belle was also a Panelist on the Thursday ISAC Roundtable, where draft ISAC recommendations were discussed.

What is ISAC and NISC? From the Invasive Species Advisory Council’s website, “[ISAC’s] primary duty is to “provide information and advice for consideration by the National Invasive Species Council” on invasive-species related issues. ISAC members include representatives of state, territorial, tribal, and local governments, as well as academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. “National Invasive Species Council membership resides with the highest level of Federal leadership. The overarching duty of the Council is to provide the high-level vision and leadership necessary to sustain and expand Federal efforts to safeguard interests of the United States by preventing, eradicating, and controlling invasive species, as well as restoring ecosystems and other assets impacted by invasive species.” (About NISC).

Farm Bill Funding to Expand PlayCleanGo and Job Announcement

By: Belle Bergner, Executive Director, NAISMA

NAISMA has received approval for a USDA-APHIS Farm Bill Section 10007 Suggestion. This grant award will support expansion of the PlayCleanGo (PCG) outreach campaign into the Northeastern U.S. At least 6 states will be targeted and several new products including videos, radio PSAs, and printed products will be developed with local input from Northeastern state stakeholders. The goal of the new outreach materials will be to connect recreationists in the Northeast to the campaign and increase awareness of invasive species in the region. Do you live in the Northeast between Wisconsin to Maine and South to West Virginia? Contact Belleif you are interested in participating in this project. One of the key developments that this funding provides is capacity to hire a Program Manager who will have at least 50% of their time dedicated to managing the PCG campaign. View the job advertisement. Applications are due by Friday, May 4.

Call for Partner Articles!

Do you have a great invasive species curriculum, lesson plan or fun educational game you play while teaching about invasive species? Or how about an educational activity or outreach event that you’d like to share?

If so, we’d like to hear about it and share YOUR story in our quarterly PCG newsletter! The PCG newsletter is all about sharing ideas, featuring successful events and helping grow this amazing educational movement!

Article requirements:

  • The articles can be about anything PCG including: projects, success stories, public awareness and outreach, brochures, etc.
  • We’re looking to feature any and all PCG partners including weed control associations, Forest Service, BLM, or other agencies and organizations that take part in noxious weed and invasive species control and educational efforts across the US, Canada and now Mexico!
  • Include a short introductory paragraph to catch our interest. We’ll insert a link to connect to the full article.
  • Do not include any special formatting, graphics, stationary, etc.
  • Send articles in plain text format: 12 pt. font, Times New Roman.
  • Keep your articles relatively short. One page or less is ideal—just enough to be compelling, complete and interesting!
  • Include 1-2 images as .jpeg filesdo not imbed photos in to your word documents. Send as separate files.

Send all articles and photos to by June 29, 2018.

Rep. Spotlight

Brent Meyer, Lancaster County Weed Control Superintendent

Brent Meyer surrounded by KnotweedBrent serves as the Lancaster County Weed Superintendent based in Lincoln, NE. He’s spent 24 years working with invasive plants and has served on numerous State and national organizations including serving on the NAWMA (now NAISMA)Board of Director’s and as the organizations President. He currently represents Land Management Organizations on the PlayCleanGo Steering Committee.

As superintendent in Lancaster County he is responsible for carrying out the State’s Noxious Weed Act as well as working with, and educating landowners on invasive plants, their control methods, and potential they have on our environment. Education and Outreach are so important to the success of our program and PlayCleanGo projects the exact message we need the public hear and practice.  It is, by far, more effective to prevent the spread of invasives, than it is to try and treat them after they become established.

New Materials

Fifth Graders Take on PlayCleanGo

By: Kathleen Preece, MN Forest Partnership

StudentsJust ask Molly, a fifth grader at Robert J. Elkington Middle School in Grand Rapids, how to tell people her age about invasive species. You’ll get an answer like this: “Kids don’t always know what they should do to help the world so, if you teach them, they will do so much more.”

And then there’s Klous, her schoolmate, agrees with Molly: “If you teach kids when they’re young, it grows on them and then they teach THEIR kids and then it goes on and on and on.”

And then there’s Niko, Dean, Brad, Ellee, Keira, Emma, Lauren, Hunter, Joey, Afton and about 23 more students equally full of wisdom, energy, ideas, and enthusiasm for making the environment a better place.

If you walk into that fifth grade class of teacher Nathan Linder, you’re going to learn a lot about “spreading the word and not the problem” when it comes to environmental issues. As teacher Lindner explains, a state standard in education is about science/human interactions with living systems (Standard The standard addresses how humans change environments in ways that can be either beneficial or harmful to themselves and other organisms. The students discuss how humans move invasive species for population control or by accident and how it impacts the natural systems.

The PSAs were not these fifth graders’ first dab into the natural world. Northern Community Public Radio icon John Latimer comes into the classroom once a week to discuss “phenology (the rhythmic biological nature of events as they relate to climate). Teacher Lindner also gets his students on as many nature walks as he can to hone their observation skills.  Whatever is changing color, flying, blooming, ripening and happening in nature is recorded and shared with a listening radio audience from throughout Minnesota and beyond. The fifth graders prepare and give a report every week to Northern Community’s public radio stations KAXE and KBXE.

“I believe it is import to make young people aware of the delicate balance of our environment” says Lindner. So when he learned of the opportunity to record PlayCleanGo messages, he immediately approached his students with the idea and, well, the rest is on the radio! “I want to educate students on the importance of taking care of our wildlife and environment so future generations can enjoy the outdoors as generations did before us, teacher Lindner states.

“The best way to make that happen, I believe, is to make young students aware.”

The children’s radio PSAs have been posted in the PCG Graphic Library in the folder titled Podcasts, Videos & Radios PSAs.


Save the Date! PlayCleanGo Summit: October 17, 2018 in Rochester, MN

By: Belle Bergner, Executive Director, NAISMA

Join fellow PlayCleanGo partners at the Second Annual PlayCleanGo Summit on October 17, 2018 at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, MN. This event will be part of the 2018 Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference (UMISC)/annual North American Invasive Species Management Association (NAISMA) joint conference from October 15-18, 2018. Expected attendance is over 700 people, plus 50 exhibitors including major corporations, local nonprofits, federal and state agencies, and more.

The Summit will facilitate networking among PlayCleanGo partners from across North America; provide sessions on how to customize PlayCleanGo materials to your local needs including co-branding; showcase tools and resources that partners are using to display and market the brand; and will inspire you to find ways to get the message to new audiences. Contact Belleif you are interested in participating as a speaker or exhibitor at the Summit.

Discount room blocks are available and registration will open by early May.

May is Invasive Species Action Month in BC!

By: Sue Staniforth, Programs & Education Manager, ISCBC, British Columbia

childner and adults holding knotweedOnce again, the Invasive Species Council of BC(ISCBC) received official proclamation from the BC Ministry of Justice to proclaim May as Invasive Species Action Month. This will be the fourth year that BC has celebrated taking action on invasive species during a month-long campaign (versus a week-long campaign which had run for several years previously). The month-long time frame enables more events and messaging to be profiled.

To help shape the month’s activities this year, ISCBC sent out surveys and met with a range of partners including community groups, regional invasive species committees and local governments. The Invasive Species Action Month website is being updated to celebrate and promote events taking place across the province during May ( Each week will follow a specific theme including a focus on Play Clean Go and the great outdoors May 7th – 13th, 2018.

Eight fun short videos are being produced to be launched in May through social media. The videos are short and simple, with top tips for the public on how to stop the spread including PlayCleanGo,” “CleanDrainDry” for paddlers, boaters and anglers, “Buy it Where You Burn it,” “Don’t Let It Loose” and “PlantWise” messages. To help achieve the goal of engagement and social sharing, we hired a comedian to add a comedic touch to the scripts. Be sure to watch our social media channels for the videos being launched throughout May.

New to 2018 is the “What’s in My Backyard?” (WIMBY) Photo Contest. Youth and school groups are invited to enter and submit as many photos of invasive species spotted in their “backyard,” which could be their school yard, playground, local park, backyard garden or even nearby backcountry. The contest will run throughout May using the hashtag #BCinvasivescontest through Twitter and Instagram, as well as an online entry platform so contestants of any age can enter. The groups with the most posts by the May 31st will win one of a variety of regional field trips donated by contest partners. Watch out for these #BCinvasives videos throughout the month of May and please share with your audiences.

Visit us online and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube.

If you have any suggestions for BC’s Invasive Species Action Month, please email

Play Clean Go