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Public Input Sought On Aquatic Invasive Species Plan


US - A public input meeting on Nebraska's new draft management plan for dealing with aquatic nuisance species is scheduled for June 9.

The meeting will be from 6 to 8 pm in Hardin Hall at 33rd and Holdrege streets, on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's East Campus.

Among the species to be discussed is the zebra mussel, the most damaging of the non-native animal species that threaten the state's rivers and lakes. They are about the size of a fingernail, and like to attach to anything that's underwater. They are known for clogging intake pipes and being extremely difficult to eradicate.

"They'll completely fill the pipe," said Karie Decker, Invasive Species Project coordinator for the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at UNL. "By the time you realize they're there, it's too late."

Decker urged anyone in a water-related industry, including power suppliers, irrigators, marina operators and bait shop owners, to read the draft plan and attend the meeting. The plan, drafted by a group of agencies, is on-line at Nebraska Invasive Species Project. People can submit comments on-line or by attending the meeting.

The draft plan focuses on coordinating efforts, such as which agencies are monitoring to detect the presence of aquatic invasive species, and on outreach programs to prevent the spread of invasive species. Once the plan is approved, Nebraska will be eligible for federal funding to help with the problem. Decker emphasized that the plan focuses on prevention, which is far less expensive than trying to combat invasive species that already have arrived.

The zebra mussel, native to the Caspian Sea, first arrived in the Great Lakes, and has since then hitched rides on boat hulls up and down the Mississippi River and other major river systems in the eastern United States. They've been found in the Missouri River and in lakes in northern Kansas. They were discovered in Lake Offutt at Offutt Air Force Base in 2006 and were eradicated after the lake was drained and chemically scoured.

Of course, the chemicals don't distinguish between native and non-native life forms. Eradicating zebra mussels "often kills everything in the lake," Decker noted.

Boat owners can do their part by following the "clean, drain and dry" protocol to ensure that they're not allowing any aquatic hitchhikers to ride from one body of water to another. Decker said some states such as Colorado have gone as far as implementing inspections at boat launches to be sure there are no mussel stowaways.