Aquatic invasive species: the “greatest threat to Michigan’s tourism industry”

On a local level, both terrestrial and aquatic invasive species (AIS) pose serious threats to the health and vitality of area lakes.

Aquatic plants hitching a ride on a boat trailer. Photo credit: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality l MSU Extension
Aquatic plants hitching a ride on a boat trailer. Photo credit: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality l MSU Extension

Michigan is fortunate to have more than 11,000 inland lakes. The highest concentration of lakes in the Lower Peninsula is located in Oakland County. Addison Township’s Lakeville Lake is roughly 460 acres of beautiful water wonderland known for its many recreational opportunities including better-than-average fishing for Largemouth Bass, Bullhead, Carp, Black Crappie, Northern Pike and Pumpkinseed Sunfish.

There are so many lakes in Oakland County that it is easy to take them for granted and overlook the many benefits they offer. Lakes provide habitat for a diverse array of fish and wildlife species as well as countless opportunities for recreation, aesthetics, and economic value. Not surprisingly, these are many of the reasons why so many people choose to live on lakes. In fact, the estimated value of roughly 29,000 waterfront parcels in Oakland County in 2004 was a staggering $10.6 billion. Countless others who do not live on a lake are also drawn to these precious assets. They reap many of the benefits lakes provide by visiting lakes with public access sites (e.g. Cass, Orchard and Sylvan lakes).

It is not surprising that area lakes are a critical component to local recreation and tourism. Currently, tourism remains a vital sector of Michigan’s Economy. In 2011, tourism was a $17.7 billion industry in Michigan, generating nearly $1 billion in state tax revenue and supported 200,000 jobs. The importance of Michigan’s tourism industry has seen impressive growth in recent years, and is projected to grow in the coming years.

Recently, Michigan State University’s Dr. Sarah Nichols and the Resources and the Environment Implementation Committee conducted a study targeting tourism industry professionals to help inform the development of the 2012-2017 Michigan Tourism Strategic Plan. The study revealed the greatest threat to Michigan’s tourism industry was the spread of aquatic and terrestrial invasive species. Importantly, Michigan has a great variety of native species, or those that have naturally evolved in Michigan and which have existed in the state prior to European settlement. On a local level, both terrestrial and aquatic invasive species (AIS) pose serious threats to the health and vitality of area lakes including Lakeville Lake.

What exactly is an invasive species? Michigan’s AIS State Management Plan defines an invasive species as a species that is not native and whose introduction causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. This includes organisms like zebra mussels, aggressive weeds and fish diseases. Invasives tend to out-reproduce native species, and threaten natural areas. Once established in an area, invasive species can out-compete native species for limited resources such as food and habitat, alter and damage existing habitat, disturb the balance of aquatic food webs, impact water quality, and displace and in some cases prey directly upon native species. All told, invasives have cost the State millions in prevention and control each year, and have also been identified as serious threats to global and local biodiversity.

Undoubtedly, you have likely heard about at least one AIS that has been wreaking havoc on the Great lakes and has subsequently found its way into hundreds of inland lakes in Michigan. The Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) might be described as the “poster child” for AIS in Michigan. This species continues to cause tremendous ecological, economic, social and public health impacts. Unfortunately, Zebra mussels have drastically impacted lake ecosystems such as Lakeville Lake. Zebra mussels have also affected the ability to swim, boat and fish on local lakes, and enjoy lake aesthetics. These impacts have also been linked to decreasing property values and tourism.

Another common invasive, Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), was likely unknowingly transported by watercraft visiting Lakeville Lake from another lake. Another AIS found in Lakeville Lake, for which it is currently undergoing treatment, is Starry Stonewort (Nitellopsis obtusa). Another troubling AIS which has not yet been detected in Michigan is hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata). If Hydrilla makes its way to Michigan, it could overwhelm waterways only after a few growing seasons, as it has in other states.

According to Michigan State University Extension, early detection and rapid response is the key to minimizing the impacts of AIS. Also key is preventing their spread from one lake to another. Area lakes are at risk every time you or someone else moves a watercraft or recreational equipment from one lake to another. Boating happens to be the most popular recreational activity in the state, with roughly 900,000 registered boats in Michigan. This doesn’t include out-of-state boats. Remember also that there are over 11,000 inland lakes in Michigan. If you include other recreational equipment such as jet skis, canoes and kayaks, the potential for AIS issues increases even further.

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