by Scott Brown, ML&SA Executive Director
In a state blessed with so many high quality inland lakes whose immense intrinsic, economic and recreational value no one really questions, it is difficult for me to believe that after more than sixty five years since the beginning of an onslaught of aquatic invasive species (AIS) that continues to erode the ecological health and value of our freshwater resources, Michigan has yet to enact a well funded and viable program to prevent and manage these water-borne biological invaders. Two recent proposals offered by State Senator Casperson and the Michigan Aquatic Invasive Species Advisory Council fall far short of funding the type of AIS management program that we need in Michigan to fully address the immense problems created by the presence of the aquatic invasive plants and animals that continue to devalue thousands of our state’s most valuable freshwater water resources.
Although well intended, a bill recently introduced by Senator Casperson as well as the final recommendations of Governor Snyder’s Aquatic Invasive Species Advisory Council both fall far short of creating the sort of well funded, multi-faceted approach to combating aquatic invasive species that will ultimately be necessary to slow the spread of and effectively manage the adverse ecological impacts of aquatic invasive plants and animals.
While Senator Casperson’s proposed bill seeks to revamp and streamline the Michigan DEQ AIS management permitting process and offers local units of government the option of passing ordinances that would allow the collection of public boat launching fees to be used to pay for local AIS management efforts, the proposal leaves the brunt of the workload for controlling AIS at the local level. I suspect that often financially strapped townships and municipalities would be reluctant to implement yet another program that would further strain already over burdened budgets and workloads. Moreover, his proposal for collecting user fees at the local public boat launch facility would leave the work intensive task of collecting petition signatures to gain approval of such ordinances on the backs of lake associations or communities. While we believe that portions of the MDEQ AIS permit process revision language of this legislation may reap tangible benefits that could help reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of AIS management efforts and is worthy of consideration as the sole component of another bill, the language in the proposed legislation that attempts to reaffirm an unofficial de facto state policy for funding of AIS management efforts on inland lakes at the local level is a non-starter that does little to address the immense problems presented by the increasing existence of aquatic invasive species in our inland lakes and therefore should not receive the support of the state legislature or the Governor.
The final recommendations of Governor Snyder’s AIS Advisory Council involve asking the state legislature to approve a nominal AIS management assessment fee on recreational boat registrations that would raise a mere five to six million dollars annually to fund the implementation of the state’s newly revised AIS management plan. In light of the complexity, scope and severity of Michigan’s AIS associated problems, we view this recommendation as woefully inadequate to effectively address the problem. We suspect that the majority of these funds will be committed to addressing Great Lake AIS issues, a situation that will again leave the burden for funding inland lake AIS management efforts on the backs of folks who live on or near inland lakes. Our state’s lake associations and/or communities have been left “holding the bag” for the $20 million per year cost of AIS control for over six decades, it is well past time for the State of Michigan to enact an adequate AIS funding mechanism that is capable of at least sharing some of this inordinate financial burden.
In the face of a massive invasion of AIS, the on-going efforts of our state’s lake associations have ensured the preservation of viable recreational boating and fishing opportunities for the public as well as the unique lakefront lifestyles and private businesses whose success is so dependent on healthy aquatic ecosystems and good water quality.
The time to fully address and adequately fund the AIS problem in Michigan has come…a state AIS funding mechanism that raises any less than $20 million annually does not allow for effective remediation of the AIS issue. In our view, one half of this amount should be allocated to efforts focused on the immense Great Lakes associated AIS problem and for funding of adequate staffing levels as well as operations and management of the MDEQ Office of the Great Lakes and the Aquatic Nuisance Species office, the remaining ten million dollars per year should be allocated to cost sharing the burden of AIS management on our magnificent inland lakes. This issue is ultimately epi-centered on good public policy as well as on equity and fairness for Michigan’s recreational boating community and to our lake associations and communities.
Please call your state legislators today and strongly suggest to them that the time for a realistic and well funded response to Michigan’s aquatic invasive species is now!