Aquatic invasive species (AIS) have well documented negative impacts on communities and aquatic ecosystems across the nation. Collectively, all invasive species cost communities in the United States $120 billion/year (Pimentel et al 2005). When limited to AIS, more localized numbers demonstrate the negative economic impacts. Whether it is an estimated negative impact of $230 million/year for shipborne invasions in the Great Lakes (Rothlisberger et al 2012) the $20 million Wisconsin Energies has spent since 2000 dealing with zebra and quagga mussels (Diane Schauer, unpublished data), or the multiple millions of dollars that would be needed to mitigate water clarity issues caused by the spiny waterflea in Lake Mendota in Madison, WI (Walsh et all 2016), it is well demonstrated that AIS are an economic drain on communities.
AIS also have negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems. They can reduce densities of desirable native species (Fitzsimmons et al 2006, Nichols et all 2003) and impact regionally threatened and endangered species (Reid and Mandrak 2008, Strayer 2010). AIS can also alter nutrient cycling (Turschak et al 2014) and hydrology (Tulborne et al 2007), and can contribute to harmful algal blooms (Vanderploeg 2001, Auer et al 2010) and the transmission of pathogens and parasites to native organisms (Sauer et al 2007, Domske and Obert 2001). Pathogens themselves can even be AIS, as evidence by fish diseases such as viral hemorrhagic septicemia and whirling disease. The ecological changes that invasive species can cause bring instability to natural systems that threaten the economies and ways of life that communities depend on (e.g. collapse of Lake Huron salmon fishery; collapse of nearshore Lake Michigan perch fishery).
With these documented and realized negative impacts, entities from across the country have invested substantial financial and human resources to prevent and mitigate these issues. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides nominal annual funding to every state with an approved AIS management plan. In Great Lakes states, that funding has been augmented with millions of dollars of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding that has been specifically earmarked for AIS issues. Other sources of state funding in upper Great Lakes states (e.g. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan) have also allowed for the creation of local grant-in-aid programs that have helped local entities address AIS issues in their service areas.
Extension professionals are important resources at each level of addressing AIS issues, from helping state-level natural resource managers develop programs to meet their management objectives (e.g. watercraft inspection programs to slow AIS spread, citizen monitoring efforts for data on AIS distribution), to offering support and programming to communities to meet their local needs (e.g. training to implement watercraft inspection/citizen monitoring programs).
Unfortunately, although AIS and their detrimental economic and ecological impacts are not limited to the Great Lakes Basin, a broader engagement of extension professionals in AIS issues in NCRWN states outside the Great Lakes Basin has been lacking. This could be for a number of reasons, including differences in funding availability, differences in existing AIS networks, and differences in water resources. Early discussion with NCRWN extension professionals outside the Great Lakes states indicates high levels of interest in engaging in AIS issues, but limited resources and access to existing materials, programs, and knowledge. The NCRWN structure represents an opportunity to share existing AIS extension programming among network states and expand the portfolio of issues that NCRWN extension programs can address. This will ultimately better protect the communities and water resources throughout the NCRWN from the undesirable impacts of AIS.
In order to address this gap, a NCRWN AIS Working Group be created that establishes an extension-based network where one currently does not exist. This will benefit working group participants by connecting them other interested extension professionals that are working with AIS issues. This sharing of information that can increase efficiencies and help develop new programs across the network. An established working group will also position participants to take better advantage of regional funding opportunities for which only a coordinated network can successfully compete. This network also will benefit state AIS and natural resource managers. Extension-based programming is often at the heart of citizen efforts to prevent the spread of AIS and building capacity within extension for this kind of work gives managers another tool to use when addressing complex AIS issues. Lastly, this network has the potential to benefit local communities. Whether it be extension-based watercraft inspection programs that help interested citizens protect their lakes and rivers from AIS, or extension- based efforts to help businesses address AIS issues (e.g. Great Lakes Sea Grant Network’s AIS Prevention for Fishing Tournaments project), local communities stand to benefit greatly from extension programming that enable them to take action against AIS.
University of Wisconsin Extension Environmental Resources Center and University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute