Monday, March 16, 2009

Canoecopia and invasive species

The only impulse purchase made at the big event in Madison this year was a bug shirt, and that purchase was very similar to a Cold War arms race. I had pretty much decided to buy one when RonO asked me if I'd made up my mind. I told him yes and his comment was, "Well then I'm buying one too. I'm not going to be slapping black flies while you sit around the fire drinking beer with your arms folded". The VOR quickly signed on as well, since the only person that hates insects more than her is the GurneyGranny. We saw lots of old friends and met plenty of new ones, both at the show and at the Crystal Corner after the show. I spent a bit of time at the government booths this year (Ontario, Wisconsin DNR, Dane County, etc), trying to catch up on what was going on around the area regarding water quality issues. I learned that even Dane County has an invasive species problem with things like Zebra Mussels, milfoil, purple loosestrife, and a myraid of others as well. The big problem is the Great Lakes however, and it would seem that Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York have passed ballast water regulations that will only serve to piss off shipping concerns and really do nothing to improve the situation. The main thing problem is different regulations for all four states and a complete lack of overall policy or cooperation.

I have a couple personal Catch 22 stories of government agencies contradicting themselves, with me and a friend of mine acting as the wheat between the millstones of government intransigence and conflicting regulations. Unfortunately, I can't go into them because I need to make sure the statute of limitations have expired. All I can say is that one incident involves elm wood and the other a part time 'wetland'.

Enter the new ballast water regulations. Each state is very different which means that a saltie (ocean going vessel) entering the Great Lakes has to get a fistful of permits before they can even think about it. Some of the state regulations don't even exempt lakers, ships that never leave the Great Lakes. While its true that some species are only in the eastern end of the lake its only a matter of time before they naturally migrate in this direction. If piecemeal regulation like this actually provided any benefits I guess I would be in favor. It is however, like allowing little kids to only piss in the shallow end of the pool; chances are the problem is going to reach the folks in the deep end eventually. I'm not sure if the legislators wanted a gold star from the Sierra Club or just what the thought process was. I'd like to see some sort of effective program to eliminate invasive species as much or maybe more than the next guy. After all, its my playground they are screwing with here!

On a positive and poorly reported note, the NPS is working with a shipping company, the American Steamship Company, to come up with a way to sterilize the ballast tanks of ships from high risk ports. They will use a dye rather than a true biocide for the test and introduce it into ballast tanks at a lower Great Lakes port and then pump them in Superior harbor. The DNR has to approve the test however, no sure thing by any stretch, but its great to see the cooperation between the government and the private stake holders and at least they seem to be addressing the problem. This is how it should work rather than our business as usual adversarial situation. Meanwhile, the shipping season will open later this month and it does not appear that anything will change from last year or from 1959 for that matter, when the St Lawrence Seaway opened. Wonder what the next disastrous plant or animal will be that stows away? I'm sure we'll find out pretty damn quickly. I'm not sure which of these disastrous non native species is my favorite. The sea lamprey has history and its sheer devastation of the commercial fishing industry in its resume' but the zebra mussell is coming on fast, screwing up everything it can affix itself to. Alewives are a dark horse, but my childhood memory of taking the ferry from Ludington, MI to Kewanee, WI as a kid, and sailing through a virtually unbroken raft of dead and stinking alewives along the way make them a sentimental favorite for me. I think the legislators in those 4 states, the federal level, and Canada as well, should get some sort of large, contractually guarenteed bonus for the yeoman's work they did on this issue. After all, thats kind of how it works these days, right?

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