By Scott Brown
Michigan Lake Stewardship Associations
For over sixty years, our members, lakefront property owners and their respective lake associations have voluntarily placed themselves at the forefront of a seemingly never ending battle with an increasingly widespread and destructive array of exotic aquatic invasive species. Through self-imposed Special Assessment Districts that fund local efforts to mitigate the harmful influences of the invasive plants and animals that have entered their lakes primarily through public boating access sites, lake associations have placed themselves at the epicenter of efforts to preserve and protect the recreational and economic value of thousands of Michigan’s inland lakes. In 2017, for example, lakefront property owners contributed over 30 million dollars to fund efforts to control the harmful influences of invasive species. The heroic efforts of Michigan’s lake associations have made significant contributions to helping preserve viable recreational boating and fishing opportunities for hundreds of thousands of members of the general public, robust outdoor activities that generate approximately five billion dollars annually in support of Michigan’s economy.
It is unfortunate to note, however, that after more than seventy years since the first introductions of aquatic invasive species to Michigan waters, our state government has yet to enact legislation that would create an effective and sustainable aquatic invasive species management funding mechanism that would serve to redistribute a sizable, though equitable portion of the financial burden for the cost of aquatic invasive species management to Michigan’s expansive public recreational boating and fishing communities. For far too long, Michigan lake communities have been asked to singularly shoulder the entire burden of aquatic invasive species management while the recreational boating and fishing public as well as citizen stakeholders who continue to reap the benefits of navigable waters and good fishing have not been asked to contribute a fair and equitable amount with which to help support and sustain these efforts. In an era defined by the increasing inability to identify a single public boating access enabled inland lake within Michigan that is not currently hosting one or more exotic aquatic invasive species, it is evident that secondary dispersal enabled by transient recreational watercraft has resulted in a dramatic expansion of the scale of exotic aquatic species invasions.
Occurring in a rapidly expanding stepping-stone fashion, inland lakes that have hosted successful introductions of exotic aquatic invasive species, and that also host public boating access facilities, are known to serve as regional source hubs for the secondary dispersal of those species. Scientists, ecologists, and water resource managers throughout the state have acknowledged that on-going bio-invasions being perpetrated by highly aggressive and rapidly colonizing aquatic invasive plants such as Starry stonewort will ultimately require significantly greater public funding as well as intensive collaboration between state government and water resource stakeholders in order to mitigate their increasingly widespread deleterious influences.
In light of these indisputable facts, Michigan Lake Stewardship Associations, in partnership with the Michigan Waterfront Alliance, respectively encourages the Michigan State Waterways Commission to join us in working collaboratively in seeking viable solutions to the single most important problem confronting our vast treasure of inland lakes. While we are encouraged by, and are thankful for the opportunity to work with the senior leadership of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division within the context of a newly formed AIS Task Force, we recognize that the challenge of preventing or of slowing the spread of exotic invasive species within our inland waters represents a daunting task. We recognize, for example, that without sufficient funding to sustain the level of statewide effort that will ultimately be required to address this steadily escalating water resources management problem, our efforts are destined to fail. For this reason, we would encourage members of the Waterways Commission to work with us in encouraging the state legislature to appropriate substantially greater aquatic invasive species management funding, and/or to enact legislation that would establish a sustainable funding mechanism, such as a specially designated aquatic invasive species prevention and management watercraft registration fee, that in our opinion should also include the hundreds of thousands of small personal watercraft such as kayaks that are also known to facilitate new invasive species introductions.
It has been suggested that grossly inadequate aquatic exotic invasive species prevention funding places all of us in the untenable position of having to passively accept new introductions, and their often harmful economic and ecological consequences. Failure to effectively respond to this on-going crisis will result in a significant increase in both the frequency and scale of exotic aquatic species invasions that occur in Michigan waters. We would like members of the Waterways Commission to know that Michigan Lake Stewardship Associations, and the Michigan Waterfront Alliance are fully committed to expending the time, energy, and resources that will be necessary to accomplish these goals on behalf our vast treasure of freshwater gems. Thank you for your attention.