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Great Lakes Article:

Michigan moves to confront invasive species
State hopes educating boaters will stem spread of plants and animals
By Gordon Love
Capital News Service
Published in the South Bend Tribune February 21st, 2005

LANSING -- Invasive plant and animal species continue to be a major problem in Michigan and the state hopes to help the situation through education and legislation.

"It's important to educate the public on these issues," said Emily Finnell, a quality analyst with the Department of Environmental Quality.

Finnell said the department's main goal is to increase the public's awareness of invasive species and what can be done to prevent their spread.

Major invasive species in Michigan include zebra mussels, round gobies, sea lampreys, emerald ash borers and purple loosestrife.

Rep. Kathleen Law, a Gibraltar Democrat, is sponsoring bills that would impose higher fines on people who knowingly or unknowingly transport invasive species from one area to another.

"There needs to be a painful consequence for bad behavior," she said. "When someone moves a species, it costs the state $300,000 to $1 million to contain it."

Finnell said the issue can be approached on various levels, but if there's going to be legislation, the public needs to be educated about invasive species and what they can and can't do with them.

The DEQ has several methods of public education, including an annual aquatic-invasive species awareness week in June and grants to alert people at the local level, she said.

Carol Swinehart, communications specialist with the Sea Grant program at Michigan State University, said the marine research group wants to focus on educating boaters.

"This is a quality of life issue," she said. "We're trying to educate boaters to prevent further spread among people who use the lakes for recreation. We want to give people the tools to minimize the problems."

Boaters often move between bodies of water and, she said, they should become more aware and check and clean their boats.

Swinehart said Sea Grant also wants to help stop the invasion of hydrilla, an aquatic plant.

"This has the potential to be a very troublesome species in Michigan, and we want people to be on the lookout," she said.

Hydrilla is as close as Pennsylvania, a state that shares a similar climate with Michigan, and Sea Grant believes hydrilla could spread here, Swinehart said.

James Clift, policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council, said that more must be done.

"While education helps with inland lakes, it does nothing to protect the Great Lakes," he said. "The big threats come from the international level."

Clift said the state needs to deal with this problem because the federal government has failed to do so.

For example, he said, the state should start regulating freighters in the Great Lakes and checking them for hitchhiking invasive species.

Finnell said beyond education, the DEQ will continue to support research financially to contain the current invaders in the state and stop the introduction of new ones.

She said the department also will work on stopping zebra mussels, which are the most widespread invasive species, raise awareness about hydrilla and continue to try to avert the invasion of Asian carp, a fish in the Mississippi River which has not reached Michigan yet.

On the legislative front, Law said invasive species are the No. 1 threat to the Great Lakes and cost the state and the federal governments hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

"The only thing we can do is raise fines," she said. "People need to realize this is not about your personal liberties. This is about saving entire species."

For more information on invasive species visit Sea Grant's Web site at www.miseagrant

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