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Superior native curbs spread of invasive species

With the Fourth of July holiday now behind summer-lovers, perhaps it feels as if the recreational boating season is really revving up. That could lead to the inadvertent spread of aquatic invasive species from one water body to another. Superior native Rebecca Buczynski, however, is doing her part to help prevent that spread this summer by acting as a boat landing inspector on Lake Superior.

When a plant or animal hitches a ride on a recreational boat from one habitat to another, and flourishes, it could disrupt the health and well-being of the species already in that spot. In Wisconsin, some problematic aquatic invasive species are Eurasian milfoil, which crowds out native plants, and spiny water fleas and quagga mussels. The waterfleas and mussels eat a lot of the virtually microscopic organisms on the lower end of the food chain, denying other creatures a meal.

Buczynski’s role as a boat landing inspector is to approach boaters as they leave the lake and educate them on the best way to avoid transporting creatures like Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas to inland lakes. That’s done by sharing the messages of inspecting the boat for hitchhiking plants and animals, then suggesting that boaters clean, drain and dry their boats before going into the water again. The ultimate message is one of education on the impacts these non-native species can have on the invaded waterbodies.

Buczynski is one of nine summer 2014 employees who work 20 hours a week—weighted more heavily to weekends when more people are boating.

The inspectors record boaters’ answers (keeping the sources anonymous) about their inspecting, cleaning, draining and drying practices on a form that is sent electronically to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for processing. In 2013, Sea Grant inspectors reached nearly 13,000 people and checked about 6,000 boats for AIS.

“We can’t force people to talk with us,” said Titus Seilheimer, Wisconsin Sea Grant’s fisheries specialist and the one who oversees the seasonal boat inspectors. “The inspectors are there for education, not enforcement. We want to get people to the point of: Do they understand why this (aquatic invasive species removal) is important. You want it to be more than them just saying ‘yes’ because a boat landing inspector is standing there staring at you. We won’t always be there so they need to make clean, drain, dry and never move a part of their routine.”

Seilheimer is refining the inspection and education process this year. With help from a group of county-based and DNR personnel, he has reworked the script to, for example, acknowledge when an individual boater may have already spoken with an inspector earlier in the season.

“In general, people appreciate what the inspectors are doing. It can get a bit old, though, later in the season if they have talked to someone three times and they’re being approached for a fourth time,” Seilheimer said.

There are some successes from the effort. Quagga mussels, which number in the trillions in Lake Michigan, have not made it to inland lakes in any appreciable—and destructive—way.

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