AIS are confounding our management organizations and fouling our lakes. Everyone is frustrated with the AIS issue. We have cobbled together a system of prevention and management that substantially lacks a good scientific foundation. We implement various programs and actions based on what we collectively think will work or what is politically or socially acceptable. Yet AIS continue to spread.
It is interesting and telling that the overall outcome of our AIS prevention and management efforts is viewed as both effective and not effective, depending on a person’s point of view. We really don’t know how effective our efforts are and therefore we have no idea how to best or most effectively deploy our programs and resources.
Scientifically credible research is the only thing that will get us over this hump.
The prevailing AIS management hierarchy is:
- Early detection
- Rapid response
In reality however, once an invasive species is discovered in a lake, the timeline from prevention to control or coping is short – very short. In Minnesota, the most recent case of zebra mussel infestation (in Christmas Lake) went from discovery to coping in less than two months.
Why is this? Simply, we do not have good tools for early detection. Because of this, we do not have the opportunity for a rapid response. We tend not to have the stomach for bona fide containment. We do have some chemical or mechanicalcontrols, especially for invasive plants. However, these controls are ongoing and require a significant investment. So, in most cases, we cope with AIS in our lakes.
Our prevention systems are leaky.
Research can get us past this.
We need credible field research on effective AIS prevention methods. There is no objective baseline to evaluate the effectiveness of current prevention approaches. How much do education or inspection programs reduce the risk of AIS introductions? What is the actual risk of AIS movement by pathways other than boats and trailers? Right now, we are guessing on the answers to these questions.
We need research on early detection methods. How much and what kinds of effort are required to discover a new AIS introduction early enough to make containment or eradication a viable option? I think at least a ten-fold increase in the most intensive monitoring and surveillance programs now in place would be required. Perhaps more.
We need research on effective control methods. People tend to prefer biological controls for AIS, but with few exceptions, we have none that are effective. Developing biocontrols requires a long time frame and intensive research – for each species! Chemical and physical controls should also be included in ongoing research.
Here is the rub — credible research will take substantial time and money. There are no shortcuts for this. The ultimate solutions will involve genetic vulnerabilities of these invasive species. Bio-engineering solutions — again, tailored to each species — will be the neatest, cleanest approach. That technology is on the horizon, but viable solutions are a long way off. I expect it will be decades and require millions, or tens of millions, of dollars. It’s not a comfortable idea, but an investment of this magnitude is our best hope of more effective results in the long run.
In the meantime, we are largely guessing and AIS will continue to spread.