Send Letter to Editor
They have many names: non-native, exotic, alien, invasive and nonindigenous. But no matter what you choose to call them, non-native species are plants and animals living in an ecosystem beyond their native range.
Aquatic invasive species are increasingly recognized as a serious problem in Wisconsin.
"Exotic species control is one of the major environmental issues of the day," says Ron Martin, DNR's aquatic invasive species coordinator, "in terms of habitat destruction and the negative impacts on native species. Since Wisconsin's native species haven't grown up with these new species, they often are not adapted to compete with them or fight back."
The magnitude of this problem has been rapidly expanding. Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) have the ability to inhabit every hard surface in their path and Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) forms mats so dense that people can no longer boat, fish or swim. Recent and potential introductions of invasive species further threaten Wisconsin waters. There is a growing watch list of species that, while not yet here, are within striking distance of our borders (Invasive Species).
In 2003, the National Aquatic Nuisance Task Force approved Wisconsin's comprehensive aquatic invasive species plan. Funding for implementing the plan has been provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"There are several broad goals in the plan," Martin says, "including preventing the introduction of new exotics in Wisconsin waters, finding ways to slow the spread of established exotics and abating the harmful impacts of aquatic invasives."
Nationally there is strong competition for funding exotics research. Wisconsin competes with areas such as the Florida Everglades for scarce federal funding. As a result, the state has to ramp up its contribution.
The Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Grant, new in 2004, is a $500,000 annual appropriation. It's funded from the motor boat gas tax revenues that the Department of Natural Resources administers as a 50 percent cost-share grant program to local government. Eligible projects include plan development, invasive species surveys, watercraft inspections and development of educational materials. Control projects are limited to those in DNR approved plans. The Department of Natural Resources has written a rule to administer the program.
"I get satisfaction in knowing that the state is focused on this area of high concern and importance in terms of recreation, tourism, scenic beauty and the health of our lakes and rivers," says Peter Murray, chair of the Wisconsin Council on Invasive Species.
The Council is a little over one year old and its primary work has been to develop a system for classifying invasives and their impacts. The Council also is assessing the effects of the bait industry, pet industry and Internet sales on the spread of invasives. Four subcommittees look at regulations, research, inter-agency cooperation and education.
Inspection and information
Prevention and control strategies in Wisconsin rely heavily on information, education and outreach, as well as watercraft inspection, monitoring, research and policy and legislative initiatives.
"The good news is that there are prevention steps that we can take when boating, fishing, and otherwise enjoying the water to help prevent the spread of invasives," says Mandy Beall, aquatic invasives education specialist for the University of Wisconsin Extension and Department of Natural Resources.
The "Clean Boats, Clean Waters" volunteer program is sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin Extension and the Wisconsin Association of Lakes. Many educational tools are used to reach the public and Beall stresses the importance of delivering a consistent message in multiple formats.
"We need to reach boaters at the landings, but also at home so they are thinking of this even before they leave on a trip to a lake or river," Beall says.
Natasha Kassulke is associate editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.