Take care to guard against spreading invasive species

Independence Day in the Upper Peninsula saw scores of people taking to the region’s waterways.

Let’s hope those having fun on boats or other forms of watercraft in the Upper Peninsula region took care to make sure they didn’t have any foreign riders on board with them.

This is Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness Week in Michigan, aimed at convincing those who use the state’s lakes, rivers and streams to practice safe boating in terms of not giving exotic, potentially harmful non-native organisms and even viruses a means to spread through the region.

Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness Week will be highlighted by the sixth annual AIS Landing Blitz, an event planned at boat landings across the state. The Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy is partnering with local volunteers, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to give boaters tips to prevent the spread of harmful species and comply with recently-updated laws. This year, the AIS Landing Blitz has expanded to include events in each of the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces.

The list of what already is in Dickinson County is daunting: Eurasian watermilfoil, rusty crayfish, zebra and quagga mussels, to name a few. Rusty crayfish, zebra mussels and milfoil all have been found in Lake Antoine. Carney Lake has milfoil as well, as does Norway Lake.

More than 180 alien organisms have been found in the Great Lakes basin so far, according to the DNR. In Michigan alone, 55 alien species have been labeled as prohibited or restricted.

It’s not just that these species can outcompete their native counterparts. They also potentially carry pathogens that can decimate local populations that have no past exposure — think viral hemorrhagic septicemia, which resulted in a new law making it illegal to place a live fish in Michigan public waters without a permit unless freshly caught in that same body of water.

The state has an estimated 900,000 registered boaters who use 11,000 inland lakes and 36,000 miles of rivers and streams. That’s a lot of territory to cover. So personal responsibility has to play a factor, since law enforcement oversight is stretched thin.

Those who use the Great Lakes or any of Michigan’s rivers or inland lakes are encouraged to follow simple steps to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species:

— Don’t launch or transport watercraft or trailers unless they are free of aquatic organisms, including plants.

— Don’t transport watercraft without removing all drain plugs and draining all water from bilges, ballast tanks and live wells.

— Don’t release unused bait into the water.

The state now requires by law that those who take to Michigan’s waterways:

— Remove aquatic plants from boats, boating equipment and boat trailers before launching or placing in the water.

— Drain live wells, bilges and all water from boats before leaving the access site.

— Dispose of unused bait in the trash. Do not release bait into the water.

— Don’t transfer fish to water bodies other than where they were caught.

It also recommends:

— Inspect and remove plants and mud from boats and trailers and dry equipment before leaving the access area. Dispose of the material in a trash receptacle or otherwise away from the water body if possible.

— Wash boats and trailers before leaving the access area if possible, or at a nearby car wash or at home.

— Dry boats and equipment for at least five days before launching into a different body of water.

— Disinfect live wells and bilges with bleach solution of 1/2 cup bleach to 5 gallons of water.

Some launches offer wash stations to potentially shed boats of vegetation and other organisms that might cling or lurk on watercrafts.

The risks of not taking care when it comes to invasive species are too high to not practice caution when cruising the waterways of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.