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Great Lakes Article:

WDNR to Enforce Boat-Cleaning Law on July 4th Holiday
By Robert Imrie
The Janesville Gazette
Published June 28, 2006

WAUSAU, Wis. - State wardens plan tougher enforcement during the July Fourth holiday of a law requiring people to clean their boats to avoid accidentally transporting invasive species into more Wisconsin waters.

Boaters who don't follow the law can expect citations, said Randy Stark, chief conservation warden for the Department of Natural Resources.

"It is a growing problem," he said. "All the wardens in the state are aware of this initiative."

Until now, wardens have issued only a handful of citations, Stark said. They now have evidence a growing number of boaters are simply ignoring the law, meaning they must move from educating people to cracking down with citations, he said.

"We'd prefer that people come to understand the law and just do what's right because it's the right thing to do," he said.

About 500 bodies of water, including Lakes Michigan and Superior, have either zebra mussels or Eurasian water milfoil - two of the invasive species that threaten the recreational quality of the waters, according to the DNR.

A law passed five years ago makes it illegal for people to launch a boat or boating equipment with an aquatic plant attached. The fine for the first violation is $154.

Wardens will check boats at landings during the Fourth of July holiday to enforce the law. They also will hand out information about aquatic invasive species and show people how to clean their boats before they launch them or as they leave the water, Stark said.

Matt Adams, 21, of Wausau, who owns a 16-foot Sea Nymph powered by a 50-horsepower motor, likes the DNR's plan.

"I always check the bottom of my boat," he said. "Every time I pull my trailer out of the water, I check underneath it to make sure there is no seaweed or anything. I pull the drain plug (on the boat) right away."

Having DNR wardens at the landings on the Fourth of July might also have a side benefit, Adams said. "It will probably keep the drinking and driving down, too," he said.

The zebra mussel, a native of the Caspian and Black Sea region, was first found in the Great Lakes in the late 1980s. The mussels quickly made their presence known, hogging the plankton upon which so many fish species depend.

The zebra mussel infested the first inland Wisconsin lake in 1993, said Ron Martin, who coordinates the DNR's efforts to manage aquatic invasive species.

Eurasian water milfoil forms a thick green carpet at the water's surface that gets tangled in boat propellers, makes swimming difficult and collects onshore in smelly clumps that can harbor bacteria. It is believed to have first gotten into Wisconsin in the early 1960s, Martin said.

Lakes Superior and Michigan and 92 inland waters have reproducing populations of zebra mussels, Martin said. A total of 458 waters, including Great Lake bays and harbors, have Eurasian water milfoil.

In 2000, 40 water bodies had zebra mussels and 312 had Eurasian water milfoil. In 1995, only seven water bodies were infested with zebra mussels and 280 had Eurasian water milfoil, Martin said.

Another invasive species - rainbow smelt, which can decimate a walleye population by eating its food - is found in 26 waters, according to the DNR.

Wisconsin has about 15,000 lakes and 44,000 miles of flowing rivers and streams. The state has more than 630,000 registered boats.

Martin said many boaters are aware of the prevention steps, in part because volunteers have been stationed at boat ramps in the past to help educate boaters about the invasive species problems and how to avoid spreading them.

A 2003 survey of boaters found 80 percent of them said they took steps to avoid spreading the invaders, up from 39 percent in a similar survey in 1994, he said.

Jeff Bode, the DNR's chief of lakes and wetlands, said the survey results were encouraging but problems remain.

"I don't think we have nipped it in the bud at all," he said. "I think it is still going to take an understanding and like so many things these days, it takes behavior changes. People just have to stop and take the time to clean their boats before they launch them in the next lake. That is different than the way it's been in the past."

The number of lakes with invaders is worrisome, Bode said.

"It doesn't mean that when these critters get into a lake it is the end of the world, but it does cause some serious recreation problems, some ecosystem consequences and frankly costs a lot of local lake associations literally hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in terms of management," Bode said.


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