The La Crosse County Conservation Alliance will honor a professor and students from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and other conservation champions during its 43rd annual awards and recognition banquet on Wednesday, April 10.

The event will begin at 6 p.m. at Drugan’s Castle Mound, Holmen. Tickets are $18.

The award for Conservation Project of the Year will be presented to Brice Prairie Conservation Association and Assistant Professor Niti Mishra of the UW-L Geography and Earth Science Department for using drone technology to monitor invasive purple loosestrife on Lake Onalaska.

UW-L student researcher Zach Woodcock received a summer research grant from the Brice Prairie Conservation Alliance to use drones to conduct aerial surveys of purple loosestrife in summer 2017.

Woodcock worked alongside faculty mentor Mishra, an expert in using drones for remote sensing.

Monitoring of purple loosestrife continued in summer 2018 when Mishra mentored UW-L student Jackson Radenz on the same project.

In summer 2019, the BPCA will again fund a UW-L student to continue monitoring this invasive species. The student will use machine learning methods to address challenges related to semi-automatically detecting loosestrife in drone imagery.

For more than a decade, members of the BPCA have been releasing beetles to control the spread of purple loosestrife across selected areas of Brice Prairie and the Lake Onalaska area, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Using drones, Mishra and students have helped track whether BPCA efforts are making a measurable impact on the invasive species. This avoids the need to wade across marshland and lakes to locate the plant and measure density.

In addition to helping stop the spread of invasive species, Mishra and students have also used drone technology in various other community outreach projects, from helping answer questions from measuring climate change in the Himalayas to determining the amount of material in a local rock quarry.

After graduation, Radenz, a geography and earth science major, will start as a hydrographer for J.F. Brennan Company, a marine construction/environmental restoration company that specializes in environmental dredging.

He will use drones for wetland remediation. Practice using drones at the local quarry, on mountain tops and more has given him confidence in his abilities, he says.

He is excited about the prospect of using drones to find quicker answers to big questions in his future.

“Throughout human history we’ve been trying to solve problems by putting people on the ground,” Radenz says. “Now we are able to see the issue from above. And, as the technology becomes more powerful, we are able to solve larger and larger problems.”

Conservation Organization of the year award will be presented to the Holmen Rod and Gun Club for its active hunter safety instructor program, strong support to establish a Holmen High School trap team, the free annual youth day and Annie Oakley Trap Shoot to support a Adaptive Sports League.

Special recognition and appreciation for public service will be presented to Ruth Nissen of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Randy Lilla, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Kevin Kenow, Bill Richardson, Steve Zigler Thomas Custer of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Featured speaker will be Neal Jackson of the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee.

He’ll discuss the history and accomplishments of 75 years of the river biologists organization.

The La Crosse County Conservation Alliance aims to provide a forum for La Crosse County Conservation organizations that seek to promote sound management of natural resource for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people.

Tickets are available from Marc Schultz (608-792-1445); John Wetzel (608-526-4238) and Alliance organization representatives.

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