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Great Lakes Article:

Controlling invasive species in the Great Lakes
Maureen Lynch
Grand Valley Lanthorn

Grand Rapids Congressman Vernon J. Ehlers has sponsored legislation to control and research invasive species that make their way each year to our Great Lakes, thus invading space and killing off native species.

These invasive species -- which include lampreys, alewives, goby and zebra mussels -- pose several threats to the lakes. They take hold and multiply in ecosystems foreign to them, thus competing with the native fish, plants and algae thriving there.

The most serious threat these invasive species pose would be extinction of the native species. According to the Aquatic Invasive Species Research Act drafted by Ehlers, invasive species are the second most serious threat to endangered species with habitat loss being first.

Annually, invasive species cost the United States about $137 billion in losses and damages. Ehlersí proposed bill, which the House Science Committee passed unanimously, would allow for about $43.5 million each year from 2004 to 2008 to help control the problematic invasive species population, as well as boosting research on detection, prevention and control of invasive species.

"Even as we work on this legislation, invasive species are crossing our borders, invading our lands and waterways and causing us enormous economic and environmental harm," Ehlers said earlier this summer in a press release. "Iím pleased to bring this legislation before the committee because it addresses this problem by providing a comprehensive research program focused on informing and improving the management of aquatic invasive species."

According to Bob Riechel, the West Michigan Lake Shore park supervisor, invasive species have reached Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence Seaway by attaching themselves to the hulls of ships and tanks passing through. Riechel said the most prevalent invasive species in Lake Michigan currently are lampreys, alewives, goby and zebra mussels. None are easy to control and even more difficult to rid from the waters.

"The lampreys kill our salmon by attaching themselves to the sides of the fish," Riechel said. "Goby out compete our native fish in Lake Michigan. The zebra mussels are beneficial in the sense that they are cleaning up our lakes, but they are causing problems by clogging our water filters."

According to The Aquatic Invasive Species Research Act, zebra mussels alone have cost the Great Lakes basin $3 billion over the last 10 years for new filtration equipment and cleaning the water intake pipes. Sea lampreys cost the Great Lakes about $10 to $15 million annually to control.

Ehlersí legislation will combat the problem involving invasive species through extensive surveys and experimentation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States Geological Survey and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

The Environmental Protection Agency will run a development, demonstration, and verification program to develop technologies to control and suppress invasive species, while educating federal, state and local managers on how to combat the invasive species.

Also planned in Ehlersí legislation is a research program to support the Coast Guard in its attempt to reduce the risk of invasive species coming to unnatural habitats by way of ships, a grant program from the National Science Foundation to support research in taxonomy and systematics and adequate funds to conduct any necessary research.

This way, policy-makers can effectively make decisions to reduce the threat of invasive species in our Great Lakes.

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