/ Opinions / Clean Boats Clean Waters training helps volunteers educate others

Clean Boats Clean Waters training helps volunteers educate others

June 12, 2020 by Beckie Gaskill

While there are still social distancing best practices in place and things are not exactly as we remember them, we have learned, in large part, to take our meetings and trainings online. As I have said before, this has afforded many of us the opportunity to attend and to learn many things we otherwise would not have.  

I experienced yet another one of those things this week. I have attended an in-person Clean Boats Clean Waters (CBCW) training before, as many know, but this was my first virtual training. It was put on my Stephanie Boismenue from Oneida County Land and Water Conservation and Cathy Higley from Vilas County Land and Water Conservation. One of the cool things about this particular training was having them both in the “same place.” It was another great example of how we all have our own struggles, but we are all really in the same situation, as both Oneida and Vilas Counties look to find the best ways to still do watercraft inspections, while keeping volunteers and other safe.

Because I am a bit of a geek who likes to compare numbers, I thought it was interesting to see the number of lakes and instances of invasive species that have been reported from one county to the other were really not that much different. One example was the fact that, for Eurasian watermilfoil, there were 39 reported lakes with infestations in Vilas County and 38 in Oneida County. The instances of curly leaf pondweed in Vilas County was 18, with 16 lakes in  Oneida County. 

The proximity of those numbers likely does not come as a large shock to many. I felt it may be close myself, from one county to the other. The reason I felt that was is that invasive species do not just get up and move to another lake. We bring them there, unfortunately. Usually, it is unintentional. I would think there have been very, very few people who have moved an invasive species will ill intent, if any. When we look at our two counties, we have a lot of the same visitors. And we, as residents, do tend to move between our two counties when fishing and boating.

Higley told us, in Vilas County alone, the cost to fight Eurasian watermilfoil (EWM), through DNR grants, has been $2.6 million. That is just for the fight against EWM. That does not take into account other aquatic invasive species (AIS) such as curly leaf pondweed, phragmites, rusty crayfish, or any of the other naughty plants and critters that can get into our waterways. That really put the cost if AIS into perspective for me, and, I am sure, for others.

There are probably still some people, whether they are local or just visitors, who say, “So what? What’s the big deal about keeping these plants and things out? What difference does it make what plants are in a lake?” 

Really, that is where the education aspect of being a watercraft inspector or Clean Boats Clean Waters volunteer comes in. Even in today’s world where everyone seems to be quick to want to argue with everyone else about everything, I feel as though most people really do want to do the right thing — if they know what that is, and if they know why their actions matter. 

I have seen a difference in the tournaments that I fish. Not in all of them, sadly, but in many. The guys take the time to get the weeds off their trailer when they pull the boat out at the end of the day. They make sure they are draining their live wells and taking the plug out. They are just more aware, I think, of how their actions could affect the lakes they love to fish. 

The bad news about invasive species, I always say, is the good news, too. The bad news is that invasive spread mostly due to human actions. The good news, then, is that we can limit that spread by changing our actions. It is something over which we have control, which is also nice in today’s world.

In the past, some invasive species were introduced by individuals who truly meant no harm, or did not think it would be an issue. Rusty crayfish are a great example. They used to be used for bait, so anglers would just dump their left over rusties into the lake at the end of a fishing day. After all, if they were using them for bait, how bad could it be to leave them there for their intended prey — maybe it would even help fatten them up for the next outing. Other rusties found their way to the lake from places like schools, where a teacher may have had them in a classroom for the year and, come summer, would release them into the lake, fully thinking that is where they belonged and they would live out their days having their best life.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. For the rusty crayfish, maybe they are living their best life, but for other species, it causes a shift in the food web from which an ecosystem does not always recover. With rusties, at some point species such as bass realize that, although they are bigger and “meaner” than native crayfish, they can be a food source. It is unclear how long that takes, but it has happened in some places, helping keep populations down. Rusties will outcompete native crayfish however. And they are capable of decimating vegetation from an entire bay in fairly short order. 

One interesting thing about all of the invasive species we talked about during CBCW training this week, is that they do not behave the same everywhere they go. Higley told us most lakes in Vilas County, for example, were not suitable for starry stonewort. At least that seems to be the case at this point. So, while that is one piece of good news, there are plenty of lakes where other invasive species have become a problem, as we know. 

It is a good idea to know what invasive species are in which lakes, not only for our own edification, but that is also a good educational tool for others. For instance, a bass club I was in had planned two tournaments on the same weekend, thinking maybe we could all camp or get together for the weekend and fish two different lakes. One of the lakes the club wanted to fish was Butternut Lake. They wanted to fish that lake on Saturday and another on Sunday. I asked if they could switch that and fish Butternut on Sunday because it was known to have spiny water flea. I explained what that invasive was, what it did, and that if we dried all of our equipment for a week before heading to another waterbody, we would be less likely to spread it. Once I told the group that, they immediately understood and switched the schedule. We fished Butternut on Sunday and were sure to drain all water and dry everything completely, knowing it would be the next weekend before any of our boats would see water again.

I think most people will follow the Inspect, Remove, Drain, Never Move mantra, as long as they know why it is important and relevant to them and the lakes they love. Education is key, and I enjoy helping with that whenever possible. Who knows, some of you just might see me at a launch ramp near you sometime this summer.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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