species threaten region's water
Indiana response, chance for federal funding trails neighboring
Great Lakes states
By Brendan O'Shaughnessy Statehouse Bureau Chief
Northwest Indiana Times
INDIANAPOLIS -- They're here: Fish that can breathe air
and scooch over land, mussels that choke any host surface,
and algae that ooze respiratory and intestinal toxins.
Invasive species may call to mind alien horror flicks,
but the reality is that 162 of them already live in the
Great Lakes region. In fact, a new nuisance that could
radically alter the ecosystem and decimate native animal
life arrives every six to eight months.
And Indiana, compared to neighboring states, has done
little about it.
While environmentalists say that many of the headlines
about "walking" snakeheads, zebra mussels and
blue-green algae are exaggerated, they appreciate the
One called the huge Asian carp, with its voracious appetite
and jumping ability, the "piscatorial poster child"
for dangerous critters, because it galvanized public attention
to the problem. Another said fishermen in Asian carp-dominated
waters carry garbage can lids to fend off the leapers.
In Northwest Indiana, steel companies and electric and
water utilities have been spending millions since the
1980s to control the zebra mussels that clog their intake
valves. White perch recently have altered the sport fishing
industry in Wolf and Cedar lakes by overwhelming more
Lake associations in northern Indiana have spent nearly
$1 million annually to remove mats of water-clogging Eurasian
milfoil. And though it's not as pervasive as southern
kudzu, most motorists in the region can spot spreading
purple loosestrife in reedy clumps along the interstates,
which strangles other plant life in wetlands.
Even if you're not a boat or fishing enthusiast, the
threat of harm from nonindigenous species can easily compare
to the rise in exotic health threats like West Nile virus
or monkeypox. Then there's the economic costs of controlling
these invasive species, estimated at $139 billion per
year nationally by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Some scientists say the mobility and reproductive ability
of invasive species create a biological pollution with
a greater long-term effect on the environment than chemical
and pollution hazards.
Control efforts rarely have been successful, but they
include ballast-emptying regulations for ships and educational
programs to stop fish-tank dumping.
Indiana lags behind
For the first time, Indiana this summer gathered environmentalists
and representatives from three state agencies to form
an Aquatic Nuisance Species plan, the first step in receiving
$100,000 in annual federal funding that other states already
receive. Pennsylvania is the only other Great Lakes state
without a management plan or ballast-water discharge law.
Indiana control efforts are borne by private companies,
lake and environmental associations and the state agriculture,
natural resources and health agencies.
"How much is Indiana spending, and how do we compare
to neighboring states?" asked Gwen White, project
manager for the state's Aquatic Nuisance Species plan.
"We don't have those figures."
Michigan, meanwhile, has just renewed its last five-year
plan to coordinate efforts. A Michigan environmental specialist
called spending on invasive species "extremely disproportionate,"
with Wisconsin and Minnesota budgeting more than $1 million
while other states do little.
"We're behind in the sense that we haven't developed
a plan as quickly, but the advantage is that we can build
on their experience," White said.
John Ulmer, conservation chairman in the state's Sierra
club, was more critical of Indiana.
"We're a fairly conservative state," Ulmer
said. "We don't fund natural resources that can be
someone else's problem until it's in my back yard."
Next year, Indiana will have an estimated $1.1 million
raised annually from increased boat license fees that
has been dedicated to removal of sediment and control
of exotic plants and animals in Indiana waters. White
said her goal is to present an ANS plan to the Department
of Natural Resources at its Sept. 23 board meeting.
Prevention requires coordinated efforts
Scientists and environmentalists stress that invasive
species are a regional and national problem that demands
coordinated efforts. Congress currently is considering
reauthorizing $45 million in funding to prevent new invasions
and mitigate established problems.
Prevention measures consist mainly of killing invaders
stored in the ballast tanks of ships. Ships take on and
discharge thousands of gallons of ballast water to balance
the ship depending on the weight of its cargo. Before
entering the Great Lakes system, they must discharge water
that could transport foreign species, but a layer of sludge
can remain and harbor dangerous critters.
One typical shipping route takes imported steel from
East European countries to Burns Harbor in Portage. The
ship then may steam to Duluth, Minn., to pick up grain
for the return trip to Europe. The Great Lakes water it
takes on mixes with the bottom sludge, carrying out invasive
species at the next discharge.
Each port is especially vulnerable to exotic species
introductions, so prevention methods include costly chemical
treatment and exchange of ballast water in the salty Atlantic.
Neither method has proven foolproof. Since the opening
of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, most invasive species
have taken this route.
Another entrance is the Chicago River, which opens the
Mississippi River basin to exotic species. An electric
barrier currently stops Asian carp moving up the Mississippi
River from entering the Great Lakes, but many experts
believe a more permanent, physical barrier is necessary.
Joel Brammeier, habitat coordinator for the Lake Michigan
Federation, compared these two routes to the front and
back doors for invasive species.
"The Asian carp has a personality that enables people
to connect with the problem, and it's also potentially
the most damaging invader," Brammeier said. "Cutting
off new invasions at those two doors is key to stabilizing
Mitigation efforts begin at home
Brammeier said people introduce exotic species and have
opened a disturbing side-door route. When cute exotic
pets become too large, many owners dump them into a nearby
water system. Piranha, for example, have been caught in
nearly a dozen Indiana lakes.
White perch from Lake Michigan recently have invaded
the inland waters of Cedar and Wolf lakes, likely through
human introduction. A 2001 fisheries survey found that
white perch, which are not as desirable as other sport
fish, overwhelmed the native walleye, bass and perch and
now comprise 88 percent of Cedar Lake's catch and 49 percent
in Wolf Lake.
Nonnative fish, zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil can
be transported by accident as well, even in amounts as
small as a diver's wet suit or a bait bucket, said Brian
Breidert, a Lake Michigan Fisheries biologist in Michigan
"Recreational boaters and anglers need to be aware
of the body of water their boats are in or they can move
exotic species from lake to lake," Breidert said.
One difficulty in educating the public is that not all
exotic species become a problem. Alewife, for instance,
were considered a nuisance in the 1960s but created a
billion-dollar salmon industry in Lake Michigan and its
tributaries, Breidert said.
Also, different groups may disagree about an invader.
Many boaters appreciate the zebra mussels because they
have brought greater clarity to the water, yet they clog
valves and can contribute to nuisance algae.
Much of the Department of Natural Resources efforts have
focused on creating education materials for the public.
Other efforts to control invasive species are all over
-- Asian carp have been banned from live sale or ownership
to stop illegal dumping since January.
-- Construction of a low dam and fish ladder on Trail
Creek is aimed at controlling sea lamprey spawning.
-- Lake associations and property owners regularly spray
chemicals or release predatory bugs on Eurasian milfoil
and purple loosestrife.
-- About 30 inland Indiana lakes already have zebra mussels,
so education efforts focus on disinfecting boats and equipment
before moving from infested to uninfested lakes.