/ Opinions / A modest proposal

A modest proposal

April 17, 2020 by Ted Rulseh

Clean Boat Clean Waters education is the cornerstone of aquatic invasive species prevention in our state. It’s great as far as it goes. Does it go far enough?

It doesn’t on Birch Lake, where I live. We have a semi-private boat landing that has the usual signs, but we have no inspection program. The door to invasives of all kinds is wide open. Our lake is not alone: in my limited travels to other area lakes last summer I encountered not a single Clean Boats Clean Waters volunteer.

So we’re taking a leap of faith that anglers and others know they need to clean their boats and trailers, know how to do it properly, and actually do it consistently. That’s a leap too far. A time may come when boat inspections and decontamination are mandatory, but that’s a complex, and costly proposition. Until then, here’s a proposal to enhance prevention in the near term: Every boat owner should be required by law to take a Clean Boats Clean Waters course, and pass an exam, before receiving a boat license or renewal.

Does this seem too inconvenient? Too obtrusive? Too cumbersome? If you think so, consider the risk of continuing the status quo. Many of our lakes — I would to say the majority — have severely limited or nonexistent boat landing coverage.  How many ill-informed boaters would it take to spread Eurasian water milfoil, starry stonewort, spiny water flea, zebra mussels, and other nuisances to more lakes? 

So, why not make education compulsory? There are tests for issuance of driver’s licenses. There are hunter safety courses. There are classes for getting a permit to carry a concealed handgun. Why not require education for those who bring boats to our lakes which, especially in the North, are critical recreational and economic resources that badly need protection?

Putting such a system in place should not be too difficult. Our counties have aquatic invasive species coordinators and offer boat inspection clinics. That means much of the basic infrastructure is in place; it just needs to be expanded. 

The course could cover how to identify the most significant invasive species and a look at their impacts on lakes. It could walk attendees in detail through procedures for cleaning a boat and trailer and, where warranted, getting it decontaminated. The course and the exams could be given in person ideally, but also online. Those who pass could receive a recognition sticker to go with the license tag.

Boat licenses are renewed every four years — that’s how long it would take for all owners of licensed boats in Wisconsin to be certified. A weakness of this plan is that it wouldn’t reach boaters from out of state, but at least we would be sure of a well-educated resident population.

Every year, invasive species turn up in more of our lakes. It’s long past time to ratchet up our preventive measures. Mandatory education is not a complete solution, but it could help significantly.

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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