Once they're here, can we stop exotic species?

Tim LesmeisterEurasian watermilfoil. Hydrilla. Zebra mussels. Emerald ash borer. Asian carp. The list of exotic invasive species in the United States is long and growing. Every time a new one makes the list government organizations get blasted for their ineptness and these agencies scramble to come up with programs to quell the anxieties of the masses who are shouting for solutions. The results are programs that fail to stop the spread of the intruding species and typically create burdens on individuals using the resources.

A good example is Eurasian watermilfoil. I watched the inept performance that occurred when this invasive plant was found in Lake Minnetonka in the late eighties. Milfoil cutters were employed on the lake to chop the vegetation out and the result was that all of the native plants were destroyed and the milfoil was spread. Huge swaths of lotus beds were carved out of the bottom in Halsteads Bay and what was once a clean-water basin covered in big green pads and flowering stalks, it was converted into a murky mess glutted with milfoil. In lakes where milfoil was spread and left alone the prolific plant found a niche and mixed in with the native vegetation. It’s not a favorable situation by any means, but it’s better than what happened when the series of measures were implemented to stop milfoil from spreading by cutting it out.

Sadly this program is still in operation. Once a government program is started, whether it is working or not it’s going to continue because that’s just the way it works. Cutters ply the waters of many lakes in Minnesota where the milfoil has taken hold.  They butcher the bottom, killing fish and spreading the noxious vegetation to all parts of the lake. Now instead of touting the value of containing the milfoil, they promote keeping the vegetation under control by cutting to create a better environment for those using the resource.

Now zebra mussels have begun to spread to the lakes around me. Lake associations began screaming loudly that the sky was falling and something should be done. Regulations were implemented to force boaters to pull all the plugs and drain all the water from their boat. Expensive cleaning stations were set up and public access was restricted. Some lakeshore owners on some lakes want to physically inspect boats entering their lakes and the access will be closed when no one is there to scrutinize the boat.

What does all this solve? Nothing from what I can tell. Short of sterilizing every inch of a boat before it enters a body of water who can tell if an exotic species might be hiding in a crease of carpet between the bunk of the trailer and the boat.

Will we ever be able to rid ourselves of the existing invasive species? Doubtful. Can we stop the spread? We might be able to limit it, but they’ll still find a way to get from one spot to another. Do we just throw up our hands and give up? That’s a good question. How would you answer it?

Categories: Blog Content, Tim Lesmeister

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