Clean Boats Clean Waters volunteers will be out at boat landings around the state, including Green Lake, helping boaters inspect their watercraft and prevent the spread of invasive species. submitted photo
By Jennifer Fjelsted
Once upon a time, someone took their boat out fishing.
After watching their bobber in a standstill without a single bite, they loaded their boat back on the trailer and traveled to a deep, nearby lake.
Lured by the promise of better fishing, they drove down the road, launched their boat, cranked the engine, and set off in search of the perfect fishing spot.
The weather was beautiful, the trees on the shore were tall and lush, and the geese flying overhead honked happily. To top off an already perfect day, they caught more fish than they could keep.
This story sounds like a happy one, but it is not.
Here are the missing details: They ignored the “Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers” signs posted at the boat landing. They didn’t inspect their boat. They missed the harmless-looking plant hanging from the boat trailer with tiny zebra mussels attached. The water in the bait bucket looked fine, so they didn’t drain it before reusing it on the new lake (failing to recognize that baby zebra mussels are microscopic and not visible to the human eye).
This could be how Green Lake was permanently infected with zebra mussels, and it is a plot twist that forever changed the ending of this lake’s story.
In 2014, someone brought zebra mussels, an aquatic invasive species, to Big Green Lake. (Sure, birds can move things, too, but humans are the biggest cause of their spread.)
Zebra mussels cling to any hard surface, ruining docks, damaging boat engines and cutting feet — if you are unlucky enough to step on them.
These striped mussels alone cost the United States $1 billion a year and the ecological damage they cause to a lake is hard to put a price on.
Unfortunately, zebra mussels are here to stay; even with today’s technology, there are no solutions to remove zebra mussels.
Another invasive species clogging Green Lake’s shores is carp.
These non-native fish eat a massive amount of vegetation and stir up the lake bottom in the process. They destroy spawning habitat, reduce food availability for native animals, and pollute the water with nutrients that feeds algae blooms.
The Green Lake Association and the Green Lake Sanitary District work together to remove thousands of pounds of invasive carp annually. If we do not do this each spring, carp experience a massive die-off and eventually wash up on shore in an exceptionally stinky tide.
While we are working hard to minimize the damage of already-present invasive species, there are even more invasive species we do not (yet) have.
For these new invaders, prevention is the best medicine.
Clean Boats Clean Waters (CBCW) is a program sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and UW-Extension. This summer, CBCW volunteers will be at boat landings throughout the state, including Green Lake, to remind people to protect the lake.
Its four prevention steps are simple: Inspect boats and all equipment for any plant or animal material; remove all attached plants and animals; drain all water, including from bait buckets and live wells; and never move plants or live fish (a fish out of water is by law considered not alive). Boat trailers, water scooters and accessories are no exception.
As thousands of lake goers take to the water this summer, remember that you are all authors of the lake’s story.
Each early-morning fishing trip, leisurely kayak paddle, or exhilarating tubing ride behind a boat becomes a sentence you personally add to the narrative of Green Lake.
Make sure the story you are writing is one that protects our water so we all can live happily ever after, enjoying a healthy clean Big Green.
Jennifer Fjelsted is the communication and project manager for the Green Lake Association, a local not-for-profit that works to improve water quality for Green Lake.