Board advances new invasive species rules
Written by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel   
Friday, 24 April 2009 06:16
Wisconsin officials advanced a major package of regulations on Wednesday designed to control the movement of invasive plants, fish and animals.

The Natural Resources Board voted, 7-0, on rules designed to fight non-native invaders that pose environmental and economic peril.

After the vote, the Department of Natural Resources said the measure - five years in the making - represents the first time a state has developed a comprehensive rule to fight the spread of invasive species.

Chief among the regulations was the creation of a classification system identifying more than 100 invasive species. It will be used to decide how best to respond to the most worrisome threats first.

Plants such as kudzu, the ubiquitous invasive southern vine that chokes out vegetation, and the bighead and silver carp, are listed as prohibited species - they won't be allowed in the state. (Though officials said that the two species of Asian carp, if dead, could be sold as food.)

On a practical level, the regulations will attempt to address the problem of aquatic plants leaving lakes. Until now, it was illegal to launch a boat draped with aquatic plants. The emphasis will change to make sure boats, trailers, anglers and even swimmers don't leave lakes and transport invasives from one water body to the next.

The measure must be reviewed by the Legislature. But if lawmakers don't raise objections, changes could go into effect in about four months.

Some worry about costs

Stakeholder groups generally agreed with the regulations, though utilities and contractors worried about potential fines for inadvertently introducing invasive plants during field work. Other businesses worried about higher costs.

In some cases, the DNR will require landowners to remove invasive species. Fines are also possible, but the agency emphasized it would not be heavy-handed.

Tami Jackson of the Wisconsin Association of Lakes said the rules will complement federal work to control invasive organisms in ballast water released in the Great Lakes.

"The problem with biological pollution is that you just can't shut off the valve," Jackson told the board. "This just isn't the state's problem. Everyone needs to take ownership of this issue."

Concerns over invasive species began to grow in the 1960s when the gypsy moth first appeared in Wisconsin.

But the problem has escalated with growing threats to the Great Lakes, such as the appearance of the fish virus viral hemorrhagic septicemia and the 2008 discovery of the emerald ash borer.

The regulations were approved on Earth Day - a day given to grand platitudes. But the new rules underscore the incremental nature of regulation, with the DNR's top official cautioning that the latest action isn't a silver bullet.

"We are not solving the invasive species problem with this rule, but it is an important first step," said DNR Secretary Matt Frank.

Existing authority

The regulations rely on existing authority to prevent the sale or release of known invasive species. Other regulations, such as limiting the movement of water from VHS-infected water bodies, remain. So will the state's response plan to emerald ash borer.

The classification system was created with the help of scientists and industry groups.

The rules created two types of classifications - prohibited and restricted.

Prohibited species include Asian carp, quagga mussels that have infected the Great Lakes, Russian boar and other wild swine.

Generally, the public can't possess prohibited species. If they are found, DNR officials said, attempts will usually be made to remove them.

Another classification is restricted species. It includes plants such as garlic mustard, purple loosestrife and glossy buckthorn.

The DNR said many of these species are so widespread it might not be practical to try removing them.

That would not preclude efforts in some areas, such as Milwaukee County, to remove garlic mustard in public parks, the DNR said.
 
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