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Great Lakes, Including Superior, Under Invasion

October 2, 2007

Washington, DC – The Great Lakes, including Lake Superior, are under attack from invasive species, such as Eurasian water-milfoil and zebra mussels, which could hurt recreation and tourism in state waterways. Corry Westbrook of the National Wildlife Federation says they "hitchhike" in when oceangoing ships dump the ballast water that helps balance the vessels on long journeys.

"When they come to the U.S., they dump their water into our water, especially into the Great Lakes, and whatever species they picked up and carried becomes infestations of invasive species. They are species that did not evolve in the ecosystems of the U.S., so they don't have natural enemies. What sometimes will happen is their populations will explode, because Americans don’t eat them. Nothing in nature eats them -- so they take over entire ecosystems, and have caused the decline of our native species."

Westbrook says today, almost half of the species listed on the U.S. Endangered Species Act list are there because of invasive species. She says the invaders cause $5 billion dollars in economic damage every year. A plan being considered in the U.S. Senate would regulate ballast-water dumping and set up an electric barrier to keep invasive species from getting into the Great Lakes. Westbrook explains it isn't perfect, but it's a promising step. In the meantime, she says Minnesota is making strides with its own programs.

"Minnesotans have done a really good job of stopping invasive species from spreading into their state. Recreational boaters and other people have become educated on it; they're really taking action to wash down their boats, and to be cautious about taking something that's from inside the Great Lakes and putting it into the lakes and the rivers of Minnesota."

The bill, which has passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, is S. 1578. Companion legislation in the U.S. House is H.R. 2830, part of the Coastguard Authorization Act of 2007.

Jim Wishner/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - MN