Take me to the river and drop me in the water
Dip me in the river, drop me in the water
Washing me down, washing me down
These words from the hit song “Take Me to the River” first penned by Al Green and Mabon Hodges, remind us how easily aquatic invasive species (AIS) are introduced into rivers as well as one key step in preventing their spread – “Washing me down.” Prevention programs singing this tune, such as Clean Boats, Clean Waters, have spread across Wisconsin lakes by DNR and its lake partners. However, similar efforts on rivers have garnered less attention, especially on the state’s “West Coast” – the Mississippi River. In 2014, this is changing.
In addition to being a world class water resource, the river is an AIS “super spreader;” a waterbody with many invasive species and high boat traffic that can spread the invaders elsewhere. Further, once aquatic invasive species enter a river they can be washed down to lower reaches or swim upstream to tributaries. DNR’s goal is to have watercraft inspections for AIS on all super-spreader waterbodies.
Partners are stepping in to help make that happen on Ol’ Man River. DNR has awarded the River Alliance of Wisconsin an AIS Education, Planning and Prevention grant to hire an aquatic invasive species coordinator for La Crosse, Trempeleau and Buffalo counties. The new coordinator will perform outreach, coordination and planning on Wisconsin’s Mississippi waters, as other AIS coordinators supported by DNR have done for lakes throughout Wisconsin.
Tyler Strelow, DNR Conservation Warden Supervisor, says, “This new position lines right up with DNR’s aquatic invasive species goals and will help bring people together to focus on invasive species and better care for our water resources.”
Through the grant River Alliance will work with DNR Water Guards to identify high traffic boat landings for future Clean Boats, Clean Waters boat inspections, participate in both DNR’s Bait Dealer Initiative and July 4th Landing Blitz, place AIS prevention signs at boat launches and join Sea Grant in providing additional outreach at fishing tournaments.
The River Alliance also will use this pilot project’s results to evaluate how well such AIS prevention practices work on a large river and incorporate them into a strategic plan for the Mississippi as an important output of the grant. Laura McFarland, River Alliance’s AIS program director, says, “A La Crosse Area AIS partnership, including DNR, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U. S. Geological Survey, and non-governmental organizations, formed to assist in crafting the plan locally and assure future efforts won’t involve trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.”
Controlling AIS on the mighty Mississippi is an important challenge requiring cooperation from recreationists using key sections of the river such as the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, one-third of which lies in the area covered by this grant. This refuge alone is used by one million anglers and numerous waterfowl hunters and hosts 19 bass fishing tournaments. What will future life on the Mississippi be for these users? With added attention to AIS outreach, education and planning in the Wisconsin portion, and similar efforts in Minnesota, the prospects for the upper Mississippi River look less muddy.