While perusing my local hardware store this past weekend, I was struck by all the mechanical gadgets and bio-control methods I found for getting rid of muck, mowing aquatic vegetation and removing native aquatic vegetation (gulp!). As an aquatic invasive species (AIS) coordinator and a trained ecologist, I was dismayed, saddened and actually a little frightened by what I saw in my stroll down the aisles.
My education in “lake bottom management” began as soon as I walked in the door. There in a small, inconspicuous, expensive box was a muck-removing miracle! “Buy me and you can remove over three feet of muck per year!” I can understand removing muck from a man-made pond or from lake systems that are experiencing drastic imbalances, but I shudder to think of lakes in northern Wisconsin experiencing muck removal by hundreds of lakeshore property owners.
My initial reaction, as an AIS coordinator, had me asking, “Could we be introducing non-native organisms into our lakes by using this product?” My next reaction was imagining the creek I grew up on experiencing high levels of muck removal. I imagined the muck being replaced by sand, aquatic insect populations declining, AIS taking root and one of the best largemouth bass fisheries starting to decline. Could this really happen? I’m not sure, but ecologically speaking, mucky/silty substrates support a host of insects, invertebrates and healthy plant communities, and promoting and supporting a healthy plant community starts with the substrate.
Speaking of a healthy plant community, did you know that your first defense against AIS are the very “weeds” many of us want to get rid of? Many people love sandy beaches, sandy swimming areas and sandy approaches to their docks. Sadly, by clearing vegetation from the lake bottom, we may be inadvertently opening up habitat for Eurasian water-milfoil or other AIS to invade that area. AIS thrive on disturbed sites and these disturbed sites make an ideal home for the start of an “alien invasion!”
Removing vegetation from a lake bottom is not the only way an “alien invasion” can spread. On my Sunday stroll through the same hardware store, I saw this huge, sharp, weed-cutting boomerang. Now this is a boomerang, I thought. It would seem the aim of this tool was to cut lake vegetation, not necessarily uproot and destroy the vegetation. So far, so good. It would be akin to giving your lawn a haircut. “Not so fast,” my AIS coordinator side said! Both Eurasian water-milfoil and curly-leaf pondweed would love the opportunity to be cut and fragmented. Each of these hundreds of fragments could turn into brand new plants, quickly increasing the size of the plant bed!
What is a lakeshore owner to do? Still can’t interest you in a weedy swimming area? Well, I’m not interested in a weedy swimming area, either! But I also do not want to lose the native plant community that will support insects, which will feed bait fish, which will feed trophy bass and walleye, and which will ultimately be responsible for a healthy and attractive lake ecosystem. Is the answer to have no sandy beaches? Absolutely not! We can have our sandy beaches and have a healthy lake ecosystem, too. We just need to practice moderation. If lakeshore owners can reduce the size of their swimming areas, clear less vegetation around their docks and leave some woody debris along their shorelines, then we are helping to build a healthy and strong lake ecosystem for everyone involved.
In addition, lakeshore owners that allow buffers to exist between their lawns and their shorelines create habitat for a multitude of organisms. These landowners might see mink hunting along their shoreline, a rare American Bittern eyeing a leopard frog, or hear and view spring warblers in abundance. Our native milfoil weevil, Euhrychiopsis lecontei, is dependent on a less- disturbed shoreline. This weevil is a native predator for the invasive Eurasian water-milfoil. By increasing natural buffers along a lakeshore, we are even protecting ourselves against AIS!
Just remember, a healthy and vibrant lake ecosystem includes our native aquatic plants. The next time you aim to drag those “weeds” out of the lake, think of the 50-inch musky you might have caught, the loggerhead shrike that you may have seen, or remember the day when Eurasian water-milfoil wasn’t a part of your lake’s ecosystem.
Michele Sadauskas is the Oneida County AIS Coordinator and can be reached at (715) 365-2750 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact her to arrange AIS presentations and/or workshops, report any suspicious plant behavior or find out more about any of the above mentioned projects. She welcomes all questions.