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Rock the Boat

Songs strike a chord for invasive species prevention.

As a singer/songwriter, CALS graduate student James Spartz evokes a little bit of Johnny Cash with his twangy, rockabilly style. But while Cash crooned about loves lost and found, Spartz has a trickier muse: viral hemmorhagic septicemia.

Sure, it may make for a tough rhyme, but the fish disease known as VHS is of vital interest to Wisconsin boaters. And that’s why Spartz sings about it in “Clean Boats, Clean Waters,” one of three songs released by UW-Extension and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to raise awareness about the spread of diseases and invasive species in state lakes. Directed at boaters and anglers as they head out for summer water activities, the songs wrap reminders about spraying off boats and disposing of leftover bait around folk and rock-and-roll riffs—a creative experiment inspired by Bret Shaw, an assistant professor of life sciences communication.

“Research shows music can influence how we respond to messages, affecting memory, emotion, attitudes and even behavior,” says Shaw, who recruited Spartz and two other local songwriters to record the tunes. “These songs were created to encourage behaviors that will protect the quality of our lakes and rivers for future generations.”

Several Wisconsin radio stations are playing the songs, which are available at http://www.uwex.edu/erc/music/. Now the test will be to see whether boaters join in the chorus.