Preventing invasive species in the lakes and rivers is much less expensive than attempting to control them once they have found their way into the water or along the shoreline. Every year volunteers across the Northwoods put in hundreds of hours of time at area landings.
Now, with fishing and boating season started, anglers and boaters will begin to see more of those volunteers from the Clean Boats Clean Waters program at launch ramps across the area.
The Clean Boats Clean Waters program actually began in the Minocqua area in 2002, with the first inspection done at Schoolhouse Bay Landing by students from Minocqua-Hazelhurst-Lake Tomahawk School. From there it has grown across the state with the help of interns from University Wisconsin at Stevens Point as well as county land and water conservation departments.
The job of Clean Boats Clean Waters (CBCW) volunteers and interns is to help boaters understand the importance of keeping invasives out of our lakes, and ways to do that. As more lake associations get into the program, boaters have become more accustomed to seeing the blue-shirted lake warriors and taking time to answer their few, simple questions.
One of the questions a CBCW person will always ask is if a watercraft has been in another body of water in the last seven days and, if so, which one(s). The reason for this is that most invasives, if they have been out of the water for seven days, will be dead and no longer able to infest the next body of water into which the watercraft is launched.
This is especially important for one invasive specie that has just started to show up in our area: the spiny waterflea. In most cases, spinies, as they are often called, will congregate on fishing line, anchor ropes, and other things that are in the water for a period of time. However, they can get hooked in smaller numbers to fishing line and, when reeled up, can stay alive in wet line, for instance, for up to at least seven days. When this happens, an unsuspecting anglers who use that same rod and reel in a new lake, could be bringing spiny waterfleas along for the ride.
Other aquatic invasive species, such as Eurasian watermilfoil (EWM), only need one small frond to fall into a new waterbody to start an infestation. Others, such as curly leaf pondweed, have turions that can hide in the mud. If an angler pulls up their anchor without cleaning it off, and some of those turions are in the mud on the piece of gear, they, too, could be brought to the next lake.
Most invasive plants cause a variety of issues in lakes. They tend to grow earlier than native species, some even beginning to grow under the ice. This means plants such as EWM grow to the top of the water and create thick mats, stealing the much-needed sunlight from other, native plants.
Invasive species, both plants and animals, also tend to crowd out native species. In the case of plants, they create monocultures, pushing out all other plant species. Many invasive plants do not provide good habitat for native wildlife, affecting them as well. In the case of invasive animals such as rusty crayfish, which are bigger and more aggressive than our native crayfish, they outcompete those natives. In the beginning, rusty crayfish have no natural predators and can strip an entire bay of vegetation in just a short time. Eventually game fish such as bass will learn these invasives can be eaten, but it is not clear how long this will take and can vary greatly from lake to lake.
All of these problems, and a host more, are why anglers and boaters will see CBCW volunteers and interns at launch ramps throughout the area all season long. Their job is to help the lake.
Right now, several CBCW training classes are scheduled in Oneida and Vilas counties. Those interested in learning more about the program should contact their county land and water conservation program.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.