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Great Lakes Article:

Invasive species infect 26 more lakes

DNR taking message about pesky mussels, milfoil out to boaters

By DON BEHM
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
June 1, 2002

State boaters carelessly delivered two exotic pests to 26 lakes last year, providing zebra mussels and Eurasian water milfoil with an opportunity to destroy the water quality that attracts the public to those lakes in the first place, a state environmental official said.

The unintended consequence of not properly cleaning boats and trailers used in previously infested bodies of water was that zebra mussels were ushered in to eight more lakes in 2001, while Eurasian water milfoil, a plant, was allowed to grow its dense mats at 18 additional lakes, said Ron Martin, coordinator of the aquatic invasive species control program for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Zebra mussels have a foothold in 32 inland lakes. The alarming tally of lakes being choked by Eurasian milfoil stands at 351.

Both aliens depend on humans to help them invade new places, Martin said.

"They can't fly," he said. "They're at the mercy of humans to transport them from lake to lake, and there's more boats out there than ever before.

"The rate at which new lakes are becoming infested leads me to believe that recreational boaters and anglers are not getting the message to clean their boats," Martin said. "We need to remind them of the precautions."

DNR reaching boaters

This year, for the first time, the DNR is carrying that message directly to where the boaters are.

State employees are at Delavan Lake in Walworth County, Lake Nagawicka in Waukesha County and several other public boat launches over the Memorial Day weekend to help boaters learn how to block the spread of the aliens to even more lakes and rivers.

Their message simply is to pump water from bilges, drain water from engines and built-in water storage basins known as live wells, dump water from bait buckets - but not the bait - and clean boat hulls and trailers before leaving launch ramps, Martin said.

"We all need to be aware of invasive species and take responsibility to prevent them from spreading," Martin said.

The state will spend $300,000 both this year and next to educate the public about invading aquatic species, study the life cycle of these adversaries and devise methods to slow their spread, Martin said. Of that amount, $50,000 a year will go to boat inspections.

Inspectors will work up to 5,000 hours each year, primarily at boat launches of already infested lakes and at Lake Michigan harbors.

"We're hoping this approach can help make a difference in Wisconsin," Martin said. One reason to change boaters' habits: Each alien multiplies rapidly once it is introduced to a new water body.

Female zebra mussels can produce as many as 1 million eggs per year. Larvae emerging from the eggs float in the water only a few weeks before they begin developing shells and settle to the bottom where they attach to any firm surface.

Floating larvae, known as veligers, can be become trapped in a bilge pump, live well of a boat or bait bucket where they are hidden from view, he said.

Eurasian water milfoil, for its part, has the ability to reproduce from a single segment of stem and leaves. The segment can take root and form a new colony. Consequently, fragments of the plant clinging to boats and trailers can help spread the pest from lake to lake.

New law kicks in

In addition to the money for education and research, the Legislature gave the DNR another new tool to gain the public's attention this year.

Beginning this month, it is illegal to launch a boat or boat trailer in any of the state's navigable waters if an aquatic plant or a zebra mussel is attached to it. Violators could pay $50 for a first offense and $100 for a second offense.

Thirty-two inland lakes now harbor the D-shaped zebra mussels, which reproduce rapidly in colonies to wreak havoc on aquatic habitats in various ways, from depleting oxygen and food that fish depend on, to exacerbating stinky algal blooms, encrusting piers, damaging boat engines and clogging water intake pipes.

The mollusk is small, about one inch long, but its striped shell is sharp and can deter swimmers and strollers when it accumulates on beaches.

The eight lakes added to the list in 2001 are: Elizabeth Lake in Kenosha County; Little Cedar in Washington County; Ellen and Crystal lakes in Sheboygan County; Metonga in Forest County; Cedar in Manitowoc County; Long in Fond du Lac County; and Crooked in Waukesha County.

Alien milfoil now thickens the water in a whopping 351 lakes and rivers - hampering swimming, boating and fishing while crowding out native plants.

The 18 new lakes confirmed to be choking on the plant in 2001 include the following: Forest, North Twin, South Twin, Cranberry, Lynx, and Upper Gresham lakes in Vilas County; Lulu in Shawano County; Mohawksin in Lincoln County; Kidney in Barron County; Big Elkhart in Sheboygan County; Bughs and Pine lakes in Waushara County; and Partridge Crop, Lime Kiln, George, Columbia, Taylor and Stratton lakes in Waupaca County.

A few of the lakes now burdened with zebra mussels, such as Long Lake in Fond du Lac County and Lake Metonga in Forest County, are in previously uninfested watersheds, Martin said.

Now that the pest has a foothold in those drainage basins, it easily could be carried into other nearby lakes and streams and expand infestations across the state unless boaters pay attention to the stowaways, Martin said.

"The more watersheds that they're in, the faster they will spread," he said.

Zebra mussels came from Europe and were first discovered in Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair near Detroit in 1988. They arrived there in 1985 or 1986 in the ballast water of ocean freighters.

Since then, boaters have moved the mollusks into all the Great Lakes and Green Bay and into the Mississippi, St. Croix and Ohio rivers.

Eurasian water milfoil is native to Europe, Asia and northern Africa and was found growing in U.S. lakes in the 1940s. It first showed its dense mats in several Wisconsin lakes in the 1960s, and this alien species is now found in all but 17 counties in the state.

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