States look to prevent spread of invasive species

A sighting of a vessel tainted with invasive mussels in Utah last week led to a race to find the boat before it could contaminate waters in surrounding states, regional broadcaster NorthWest Cable News reports.

Officials were concerned that the boat could be headed to Idaho, which has so far managed to stay free of quagga and zebra mussels, the notoriously pesky species known for clogging pipes and covering docks and boats wherever they are introduced. The boat was eventually located in Spokane, Wash., but not before raising some serious concerns.

“There essentially was a all points bulletin throughout the three states, looking for this boat,” Eric Anderson of Washington State Fish and Wildlife told NWCN.

The concern stems from the ability of the non-native species to overwhelm unprepared ecosystems, threatening native fish and wildlife. In addition, damage to the water-intake systems of power plants and water treatment facilities as well as boat engines results in millions in damage each year.

In Washington state, Fish and Wildlife began emphasis patrols during Memorial Day weekend to inform boaters of their responsibility to decontaminate their vessels, according to the Seattle Times. The patrols will take place throughout the summer and ask boaters to remove all plants and animals from their watercraft, trailer and gear before launching at boat ramps.

Boaters who don’t comply could face a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and up to a year in jail, the Times reports. And that’s the boaters who do it by accident — knowingly bringing such species into the state is a felony.

Similarly, boaters in New York’s Adirondacks are likely to be met at public launch sites by stewards asking to check for alien plants or animals, the Associated Press reports. The volunteer college students manning the ramps are part of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, which monitors the area.

“When we move from one waterway to another, we’ve just got go be mindful of what’s hitchhiking,” Hilary Smith, the program’s director, told the AP. “We need to include cleaning our boat and gear as part of the sport.”

Since they were accidentally introduced to the United States two decades ago, zebra mussels and the related quagga mussel have spread to parts of all the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and many inland lakes and waterways, according to the University of Minnesota’s “Field Guide to Aquatic Exotic Plants and Animals.”

A few states, like Idaho, may have dodged the zebra mussel bullet so far, but the recent discovery of eight small shells in local waterway may mean that Maryland wasn’t so lucky.

The zebra mussels found in Maryland were apparently transported on a recreational fishing boat into the fresh waters of the Susquehanna River, the AP reports. Whether that means the mussels will spread further has yet to be seen.

“You prevent the spread for as long as you can, and then you just suck it up,” Jon McKnight, associate director for habitat conservation at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, told the AP. “Typically with an invasive species you have an explosion in the population, and then the ecosystem begins to change.”

In Oregon, House Bill 2020 would set aside $5 million in emergency funds for new invasions of species, but the Oregon Statesman Journal reports that with money tight this year, the bill is unlikely to be funded.

In Wisconsin, a bill design to strengthen current laws to limit the spread of aquatic invasive species is moving through the state capital, the Wisconsin Superior Telegram reports. The new law would prohibit boaters from placing watercraft in navigable waters that have any aquatic plants or aquatic animals attached. Motorists will also be prohibited from transporting aquatic plants and aquatic animals attached to vehicles or trailers on any highway.

Wisconsin has also devised a more creative way to curb the spread of invasive species. A new initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is using music to raise awareness of the issue, according to a release.

The school has recruited a group of award-winning Wisconsin songwriters to focus on preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species.

“These songs were created to encourage behaviors that will protect the quality of our lakes and rivers for future generations,” said Bret Shaw, director of the program.

Song titles include “Clean Boats, Clean Waters” and “The Ballad of Aquatic Invasive Species.” You can hear the songs by clicking here.

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