OKOBOJI, Iowa | The arrival of fall Sunday gives environmental officials a chance to step back and examine efforts to prevent the spread of invasive species in the Iowa Great Lakes.
The majority of the efforts have been educational. Agencies like the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have decided that the most practical option to stop the expansion of species like zebra mussels and bighead carp is to make sure boating communities are informed.
Mike Hawkins, of the Iowa DNR, said the fall season presents an ideal window to discuss future educational options.
“We regroup, we find out what did work, we find out what didn’t work, and we make plans for next year,” he said.
Zebra mussels are already in the Mississippi River and have been spreading to Iowa. The stationary creatures attach to hard substructures under water and reproduce rapidly.
A mussel infestation can drastically alter the energy dynamic in a body of water, potentially harming wildlife, and causing severe damage to underwater infrastructure such as pipes, filters and propellers.
Cleaning and draining watercraft after leaving a body of water helps.
The carp also have inundated the Mississippi River basin. A temporary electrical fence has been installed on an outlet at Lower Gar Lake in Dickinson County to stop the species.
Although Iowa Great Lakes boat traffic doesn’t stop entirely during the fall, Hawkins said, late-season boaters tend to be more educated fisherman rather than recreational boaters.
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“We’ve learned through our surveys that anglers are the group that is the most aware and the most educated about the spread of invasive species,” Hawkins said.
Tim Sather, senior service provider at Oak Hills Marina in Arnolds Park, Iowa, said the stability of Okoboji’s economy rests heavily on the prevention of these invasive species.
Sather said the creation of more wash stations should be a joint effort between the DNR and each community.
“I think, as a community, we need to pool our resources and do what we can to provide more checking and I'm a big fan of the wash stations," Sather said.
Kim Bogenshutz, aquatic invasive species program coordinator for the Iowa DNR, said boat owners need to shoulder some of the responsibility. Iowa has 260,000 registered water vehicles and 17 DNR inspectors.
"We can't inspect everyone every time one of these boats goes somewhere," Bogenshutz said. "Some of the responsibility needs to lie with the boat owners. They have to take responsibility as well.”
Boater education efforts are working, Hawkins said. Owners are beginning to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species to the Iowa Great Lakes.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of boat trailers in the parking lots with stickers from this year,” Hawkins said. “That means that most of those folks have been interviewed and talked to in the past. The educational program is working, and we’ve got great evidence that it’s working.”