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Lake group proposes actions against invasion species



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GENEVA LAKE is the home to beautiful sunsets, boating and invasive species. Wisconsin Lakes, a lobbying group, is proposing changes to help remove invasive species.

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January 15, 2013 | 03:02 PM
Wisconsin Lakes, a statewide organization that works to protect the quality of Wisconsin's inland lakes, is asking the state Legislature to consider its proposal to control aquatic invasive species.

The new rules are targeted at "super-spreader" bodies of water, similar to Geneva Lake and Delavan Lake, where thousands of boaters annually launch and retrieve their boats for use at other lakes in state and out.

Local, county and state officials who have read the proposal say it contains some good ideas.

But it will be up to the state Department of Natural Resources, the governor and the state Legislature to decide what, if any, parts of the proposal will wind up in the state budget.

John Keckhaver, lobbyist for Wisconsin Lakes, said the group surveyed its members, experts, and other interested parties in 2012 regarding lake-related issues and concerns.

He said it was no surprise that aquatic invasive species was at the top of perceived challenges to protecting Wisconsin lakes and freshwater bodies.

About 80 percent of the membership named invasive species as an area needing to be addressed, Keckhaver said in a recent telephone interview. In late fall, Wisconsin Lakes released a detailed plan for the prevention, control and reduction of invasive species in inland waters, with six suggested key elements to advance the effort against aquatic invasives.

According to a proposal summary, these include:

- Develop a Rapid Response Team. Quick containment of new infestations of aquatic invasives is crucial. Wisconsin Lakes proposes creation of a rapid response team committed to the containment, eradication and continued suppression of newly pioneering invasives.

Annual funding request: $440,000.

- improve containment in key waterbodies. Any invasive species strategy needs to keep invasive species from spreading out of the most critical source waters in the state. A number of Wisconsin waterbodies with established invasives and several points of watercraft access to monitor serve as the starting point for infestation into other waters as invasive species are transported by boaters and other users of the resource. Wisconsin Lakes also proposed funding for equipment and staff for decontamination units at boat landings on "super-spreader waterbodies" throughout Wisconsin.

Annual funding request: $1,300,000.

- Use a watershed approach. The most effective strategy to deal with invasive species is on a regional, watershed level rather than on waterbody-by-waterbody basis. Wisconsin Lakes proposes two, two-year pilot projects to bring all lake stakeholders in a region together to work in partnership to prevent, contain, and reduce invasives in their watersheds and regions.

Annual funding request: $100,000.

- Reinforce enforcement. As strong as Wisconsin's laws are for governing the transportation, possession, transfer, and introduction of invasive species, they are only as effective as enforcement capacity. Wisconsin Lakes proposes supplementing funding for invasive species-related law enforcement to increase the number of wardens and the time spent in invasive species.

Annual funding request: $1,337,000.

- Maintain what is gained. Continued vigilance and resources are needed to prevent them from rebounding and migrating. Wisconsin Lakes proposes funding to aid in the implementing invasive species containment plans to continue successes.

Annual funding request: $400,000.

- Create permanent partnerships. A watershed approach will only work with strong regional partnerships. Wisconsin Lakes proposes existing regional entities such as resource, conservation and development councils, regional planning commissions or other qualified watershed groups be funded for invasive species prevention, containment, and control.

Annual funding request: $1 million to $2 million.

The initiatives outlined in the proposal are not meant to supplant the current work being done to combat invasive species in inland waters, Keckhaver said. The proposal is meant to reinforce current efforts and provide new funding sources, he said.

Keckhaver said the state doles out grants for education programs around the state, but demand for grants outstrips available funds.

He said Wisconsin Lakes is proposing a more centralized attack on the spread of invasive species. Creation of a statewide rapid response team would involve a trained staff to identify the invading species and find a solution.

"The earlier you catch the problem, it's much less difficult and much less expensive to abate," Keckhaver said.

Many states take that approach. However, Wisconsin does not, Keckhaver said.

Keckhaver said Minnesota just approved $8 million annually for its fight against aquatic invasive species.

The Wisconsin Lakes proposal calls for $4.2 million to $5.2 million for its expanded efforts.

Geneva Lake and Delavan Lake are two of the "super-spreader" lakes, because people cross state lines to use the lake and will often fish there and then take their boats to other lakes.

Ted Peters, director of the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency, said he is aware that Geneva Lake is a "hotspot" for the possible transmission of invasive species. About 20,000 boats enter and leave the lake annually, Peters said.

The lake is home to a number of invasive species, including curly leaf, Eurasian milfoil and zebra mussels.

Delavan Lake reports close to the same number of boats coming and going.

Walworth County already has a program of educating lake users in the spread and dangers of invasive species.

Audrey Greene, county lake specialist, runs an education program on behalf of the county, urging boaters to empty their bilges and either thoroughly clean their boats and motors or let them dry out before launching them in another lake.

In a telephone interview, Greene said she read the Wisconsin Lakes proposal and thinkgs the proposals have some good ideas.

I think we're getting more and more people who are becoming more and more aware of the problem," Greene said.

On the other hand, putting decontamination units at each of the boat launches might be a bit much. Last year, the DNR brought a hot water boat decontamination unit to the public launch at Delavan Lake.

Of the 50 to 60 boats that came out of the water, only five or six boaters agreed to have their boats decontaminated with the hot-water unit.

"I'm afraid it would be a huge expense and I'm not sure we'll get the bang for buck," Greene said.

She said the money is probably better spent educating people about the dangers of invasive species. Still, Greene said she was glad that Wisconsin Lakes is coming up with proposals to improve the state's response to the problem.

"It's all a matter of what we can and cannot afford," said State Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-LaGrange), who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

"I think some of the ideas warrant consideration," he said.

Kedzie said lake communities could use more help in inspecting boats coming out of the waters.

Wisconsin has 15,000 inland lakes. That makes the task look insurmountable. However, there are only a few lakes that draw a lot of cross-state traffic with boats entering and leaving in a constant stream, Kedzie said. Two of those lakes, Geneva and Delavan, are in Walworth County.

"I would like to see what the DNR puts forward from their proposals," Kedzie said.

Kedzie said he was encouraged that the group was looking for other ways to raise the funds for the program than through taxes.

But he said he was concerned about suggestions that boat trailers and nonmotorized craft, such as rowboats and canoes, be licensed.

"I can' t support that," Kedzie said. "There are certain things we need to say, 'this is free,'" he said.

Kedzie said he agrees with the group's assessment that the appearances of invasive species must be dealt with immediately.

"Once they are established, they are so hard to eradicate," Kedzie said.

But prevention is the best method, he added.

He said Wisconsin can work with establishing partnerships with neighboring states to track invasive species.

He said he was also concerned that the Wisconsin Lakes program does not include education.

"The public still doesn't fully understand the nature of the problem," Kedzie said. "We really need to inform them of the seriousness of the problem."

He said invasive species education could be included in boater and hunter safety courses.

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