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The Lake Where You Live: Time to get tough

August 09, 2019 by Ted Rulseh

Imagine how you would feel if you went to the doctor for a routine checkup, only to find out you had a serious illness. It must feel somewhat like that to wake up one morning and learn that your lake has an invasive species. That happened just recently to two more lakes here in the north. 

Spiny water flea was discovered in Vilas County’s Plum Lake. In an Oneida County lake that’s among my favorites for fishing, Eurasian water milfoil was found. Take one guess where. That’s right, near the boat landing. In all likelihood, the milfoil rode into the lake on an irresponsible angler’s boat or trailer.

To me, these two events illustrate how inadequate our protections are against aquatic invasive species (AIS). At best, public boat landings are staffed by Clean Boats Clean Waters (CBCW) volunteers part-time, mostly on weekends. Some private landings are never staffed and don’t even have signage warning visitors to clean their boats.

If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that in Vilas and Oneida counties, collectively, landings are staffed less than 10% of the time. Does anyone believe that is sufficient? The doors to invasive species are for the most part wide open.

AIS prevention is a tough problem — tougher than, for example, keeping Asian carp out of Lake Michigan — because the entry points are so numerous. Our inland lakes are arguably the most important natural resources our state has. And yet, programs to protect them are seriously understaffed and under-funded.

The time has come for sterner measures. Maybe, as a condition of getting a boat license or renewal, the owner should have to take and pass an exam about AIS prevention. Certainly state funding for staff at landings should be increased dramatically. Technology solutions like boat landing monitoring stations should play a role.

Perhaps lake associations, whose members have the most to lose from AIS, need to step up their efforts. In doing so, they should be able to look to state and perhaps county governments for more assistance.

In addition, we as anglers need to accept that AIS prevention means a great deal more than pulling the weeds off our trailers before we leave a landing. Pests like spiny water flea and zebra mussel veligers can travel in just a little bit of water inside an outboard motor, a boat bilge or livewell, or a bait bucket.

Maybe as anglers we need to give up the practice of lake-hopping and limit ourselves to one lake per day. Maybe we all need to own a hot-water power washer so we can clean our boats properly every time we come home. Maybe we have to make it a point to learn all the CBCW precautions and follow them to the letter, without fail. That includes attending a CBCW clinic put on by our county AIS coordinator.

Our lakes are under constant threat from invasive species. Prevention is much cheaper and much more effective than mitigation. We have a tough fight on our hands. Is it time to take the gloves off? Residents of newly infested lakes would likely answer yes.

I will be at The Shade Tree bookstore in Minocqua on Saturday, Aug. 17, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., signing books and answering lake-related questions. Hope to see you there.

Ted Rulseh resides on Birch Lake in Harshaw and is an advocate for lake protection and improvement. His Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News columns are the basis for a book, “A Lakeside Companion,” published by The University of Wisconsin Press. Ted may be reached at [email protected]


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