By Bruce Claflin, Scuttlebutt Magazine
Anyone who enjoys the waterways in our area or owns waterfront property, is aware of many of the invasive species that are present here. Respective Departments of Natural Resources in Wisconsin and Minnesota are fully mobilized to stop the spread of non-native species in our waters, but they need our help. To aid in their efforts we’d like to provide a little education in the hope that we can increase awareness of the problem in the boating community. First and foremost, it should be noted that this is not a discussion about how they came to be here. This is not about blame. We are past that. Our rivers and lakes are multi-use recreational areas for all to use and enjoy in their own chosen way. Non-native species of fish, plants, crustaceans, and shellfish are present already and our discussion should be about their impact and preventing further damage.
Invasive species are species that are not native to our waters (or land) and have the ability to cause harm to our environment, our economy, and/or our health. They compete with native species for food and habitat. In many cases the competition is unfair and the invaders may come to dominate habitat and eventually an entire ecosystem. Void of natural controls (predators) these species can spread extremely rapidly. Degradation of water quality , a reduction in species diversity, and a significant change in the food chain can all alter the balance of our naturally occurring fish populations. In addition, they can also reduce the enjoyment of all who spend time on our precious waterways. The Minnesota DNR lists over 25 aquatic species of non-native plants and animals, and 10 diseases that are present in our waters today. These statistics alone should be cause for great concern. The quality of our waterways represent millions of dollars in tourism trade and a significant number of area jobs–not to mention the on the water, and in the water enjoyment of all of us who call this area home.
All of these present and potential invaders could have a dramatic effect on our lakes and rivers. No one wants to deal with Silver Carp flying through the air as we motor along. No one want shorelines covered with zebra mussels, or water choked by Eurasian Water Milfoil. The State of Wisconsin has already declared the watershed of the St. Croix to be a “super-spreader” because of its connection to other waters (its tributaries and the Mississippi) and its proximity to other bodies of water (Mille Lacs, Superior, and all of the Twin Cities metro lakes). Also because of its beauty, the St. Croix attracts any number of visitors who come from near and far to enjoy its waters. Many of us float our boats in the same water every year—in fact, many of us have boats that have never floated in any water other than where they are kept. These boats go from the lake or river directly to storage, then back again in the Spring. While this may be the case, as boaters each of us has an obligation to be responsibly aware. It’s OUR water, ours to enjoy, ours to protect.
To ensure the quality of our waterways for future generations, we need to be vigilant. All of us. Fisherman, Pleasure Boaters, Jet Skiers, Paddleboarders, Kayakers. Everyone who floats a vessel of any type or size–Be aware.
These invaders can hide and hitchhike anywhere. Follow the protocol prescribed by the Minnesota DNR:
CLEAN all visible aquatic plants, zebra mussels, and any and other prohibited invasive species from watercraft, trailers, and water-related equipment before leaving any water access or shoreland.
DRAIN water-related equipment (boat, ballast tanks, portable bait container, motor) and drain bilge, livewell, and baitwell by removing drain plugs before leaving a water access or shoreland property. Keep drain plugs out and water-draining devices open while transporting watercraft.
DISPOSE of unwanted bait, including minnows, leeches, and worms, in the trash.
What more can you do? Spread the word that our waterways are under attack, and support those who are actively fighting to protect them. To learn more about what you do, I would direct you to a couple of websites that can provide information on how you can help: