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Boaters have responsibility in curtailing invasion

Originally transported from Europe to the East Coast as aquatic foliage for fish rearing ponds, Eurasian Water Milfoil is now carried from lake to lake by inattentive or uncaring boaters.

A rapid increase in infestation of Wisconsin lakes has occurred in the last 10 years. If the current rate of spread continues, virtually all Wisconsin lakes with public access will have this invasive by the middle of this decade. The influx of this prolific, invasive plant has resulted in new regulations, effective this year. Wisconsin boaters now face stiff fines for transporting even fragments of any aquatic plant on boats and trailers.

Lakes afflicted with Eurasian Milfoil face an enormous cost for treatment. Clear Lake, in Sawyer County, for example, has been fighting a Eurasian Water Milfoil infestation for two years. They have invested almost $30,000 in their 77 acre lake. They have more research, treatments, monitoring, and expenses ahead. They know they will never be rid of the milfoil problem. Many lakes have had similar results.

Once Eurasian Water Milfoil gets a foothold in a lake, it's there for good. Large, unattractive, floating milfoil mats can quickly fill shallow areas. It chokes out native species, changing the ecology of the lake, including the fishery. In most cases, it also impairs the ability to boat. Milfoil harvesting attempts fail because the plant breaks into fragments and spreads. A fragment as small as a pea can grow a new plant.

Another control approach is to plant small herbivorous water beetles in the milfoil beds. The beetles, unfortunately, cost $1.50 each. Tens of thousands are needed to make a difference. The beetles will reproduce, but only in areas with natural shorelines. For this reason, the beetles are a poor choice for developed lakes, unless the shoreland owners have left the lakefront in a natural condition or have restored the near shore area.

The only reasonable approach to the milfoil problem at this time is prevention. All boaters must help by thoroughly checking their boats, trailers, live boxes, jet ports, anchors, and other gear whenever landing any boat. Visitors to our lakes must be educated about the problem and the new regulations. The new law will help emphasize the need for boater's attention and the associated fines will give a wake up call to those who refuse to acknowledge this enormous problem. The fines range from $50 to more than $2,000, depending on the nature of the violation and the history of the violator.

* Sat, 6/29/2002

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