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Boaters, anglers face new regulations in Walworth County

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Kayla Bunge
July 11, 2009

Pull the boat out of the water.


Drain the water from the boat and equipment.


Check the boat and equipment for clinging plants and animals—especially Eurasian milfoil and zebra mussels.


That's the mental checklist that Dave Duwe goes through every time he takes a couple of guys out fishing on Delavan or Geneva lakes.


But for someone with a background in natural resources and conservation, it's not about just going through the motions; it's about taking time to protect the environment.


The state Legislature is reviewing a new set of rules to combat invasive species. The rules package creates a master list of invasive species, outlines prohibitions on their movement and establishes several measures designed to slow their spread.


Chief among the new guidelines is a requirement that boaters remove aquatic plants from their craft and drain water from their equipment.


Duwe said many people already take such actions before they leave a boat launch.


"It's very common sense stuff," he said.


But Duwe is critical that it took so long for the state Department of Natural Resources to develop such rules.


"Instead of being proactive, they're being reactive," he said.


Duwe said the state should have seized the opportunity to stop the introduction of some invasive species years ago and instead is now spending a lot of money to slow the spread of them.


The Department of Natural Resources, along with an advisory council of scientists and stakeholders, began work on the rules in 2004, and the Natural Resources Board approved the plan in April.


The rules could go into effect as soon as this summer.


Slowing the spread

The state has been struggling with invasive species for decades, and regulations have been piecemeal, said Kelly Kearns, who helped craft the new rules while working in the endangered resources program. The new rules make things more consistent statewide, she said.


The proposed plan sets out a list of more than 100 invasive species and divides them into two categories, restricted and prohibited. Restricted species are those already widespread in the state. Prohibited species are those not yet in the state.


Kearns said the regulations aim to minimize the spread of restricted species and prevent the introduction and spread of prohibited species.


The proposed plan also sets out a number of preventative measures to slow the spread of invasive species. The rules would require boaters, anglers and others to remove aquatic plants from their boats and drain water from their equipment.


Kearns said the regulations more aggressively target aquatic species rather than terrestrial species because it's more feasible to limit their movement.


"There really are no good measures to put into place for terrestrial species," she said.


The new rules package would make it illegal for someone to knowingly transport or transfer invasive species without taking reasonable precautions, and violators would be subject to penalties, including fines.


"We'll be implementing this gradually," Kearns said.


People who intentionally break the rules would be punished, she said, but people who unintentionally break the rules likely would receive warnings along with an explanation of the rules and their purpose.


Already taking action

Boaters, anglers and other water users already are pretty good about voluntarily taking action to prevent the spread of invasive species, especially since the state launched its Clean Boats, Clean Waters program, said Bob Manwell, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources.


The program—through volunteers stationed at boat launches throughout the state—educates people about the importance of cleaning off their boats and equipment when they go in and come out of the water, he said.


Manwell said the success of the new invasive species plan depends on a commitment on the part of boaters and anglers.


"The success of this is going to depend on people and their willingness and interest to keep an eye on these things."


Brian Gates, owner of Geneva Lake Bait and Tackle in Delavan Township, said he expects local boaters and anglers to respond well to the proposed guidelines because they already are practiced on Delavan and Geneva lakes.


"It's basically required on both lakes right now," he said.


Gates said boaters and anglers are responsible people who understand the threat posed by invasive species, and the new rules likely wouldn't be too big of a burden for them to bear.


"They see the signs posted (at boat launches) about removing things," he said. "They understand the need for it."


Material from the Associated Press was used in this story

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