By Patty Birkholz/Michigan Office of Great Lakes
During these cold wintry days, you may not be thinking about invasive species. Maybe you should be.
While we await warmer weather -- the type conducive to walking beaches, boating or swimming on our inland seas -- invasive species are being shipped around the world; they are stowing away in cargo or are hidden in bait buckets. Others go unnoticed, invisible on our clothing, boats and even our pets that have been in lake waters. This problem sneaks up on us. Often hidden by water, invasive species are aquatic "hackers" -- silent criminals whose ill effects soon become all too obvious.
Now, the problem is full on. It overshadows and overwhelms good work being done to protect our national treasure, the Great Lakes.
Over the past several decades, invasive species have developed into an enormous challenge for the Great Lakes; a challenge that affects all of us. Policy-makers and resource managers are still struggling to address this complex and often controversial subject.
What are we jeopardizing if we do nothing?
Consider the economics. There are more Michigan residents who fish and hunt than who attended Detroit Pistons games in the 2007-08 season (1.37 million vs. 905,000). They spend $9.4 million per day (more than $3.4 billion annually). The 46,000 jobs supported by this spending provide $1.7 billion in salaries and wages, $406 million in federal taxes and $378 million in state and local taxes, with a ripple effect of $5.9 billion to our state’s economy, according to the Congressional Sportman's Foundation.
More than 180 invasive species have been introduced to the Great Lakes, resulting in a significant cost to you. Millions of dollars in lost fishing opportunities, millions more in infrastructure costs for utilities and cities. Behind the numbers, it’s personal.
You catch the invasive round gobies instead of perch. You turn with disgust from the public beach fouled with algae. You pay the hidden tax we all pay for the cost of treating utility water intake pipes for zebra mussels. You notice our once-beautiful shoreline views are choked by invasive phragmites.
Are there any solutions? Rigorous scientific research data has provided us with tools to stop new species from invading. We know the primary pathways invasive species use, including maritime commerce, recreational activities, organisms in trade and canals.
We also know much about what to do. Our state has played a leading role for the past two decades. In 2005, the Michigan Legislature enacted the nation’s first state ballast regulations, providing both protection of our own waters and driving faster action on federal regulations.
We are taking other steps in collaboration with our partners. I represent Michigan on the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. I’m also proud to be a member of the Great Lakes Commission, which has teamed up with the Great Lakes Cities Initiative to prepare a study on how to separate the Mississippi River watershed from the Great Lakes watershed. This important work complements federal agency work on this same topic and will provide the information needed to make decisions about preventing movement of invasive species, including Asian carp, between these two great basins. The commission’s study results are due out at the end of this month. All of us engaged on the Asian carp problem are eagerly awaiting the proposed solutions.
I want to end my story on a positive note. Everyone can play a part in solving the problems. If you enjoy going to the beach, boating or fishing, remember, as you move from lake to lake - clean, drain, and dry your beach toys, boat, equipment, and gear after each use. If you work in a water-related business, take all precautions to prevent spread of aquatic invasive species.
We have much to thank our Great Lakes for -- and we need to return the favor by being their outstanding stewards.