- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department will take the lead role in coordinating a state government-wide effort aimed at slowing the spread of aquatic invasive species.

The move comes at the behest of the Commission, which after hearing a proposal calling for four additions and three amendments to the department’s existing AIS rules Jan. 12, passed a resolution asking department staff to take the lead on statewide efforts to combat harmful aquatic invasive species.

Commissioner Gary Jensen called for the resolution, the Capital Journal (https://bit.ly/2jXnAQw ) reported. He said Game, Fish and Parks was the only part of state government with the expertise to guide other departments in a wider response to the threat posed by invasive species such as zebra mussels.

“It sounds like a huge undertaking and it is,” Jensen said. “But it sounds like someone needs to do it.”

Game, Fish and Parks biologists have been struggling to contain an infestation of zebra mussels in Lewis and Clark lake since 2014. The first adult zebra mussels were found stuck to docks in that lake. They now have spread to McCook Lake near north Sioux City.

While there has been little in the way of proof of the invasive mussels’ effect on fish populations in affected lakes, the effect they’ve had on infrastructure has been immense.

“What is not in dispute is their impact on agriculture,” Jensen said.

Zebra mussels and their cousins, quagga mussels, have caused havoc in lakes throughout the country. Millions of dollars have been spent cleaning water intake pipes, docks and other structures in the Great Lakes, for example.

GFP Secretary Kelly Hepler said his counterparts in other states have been warning him about the scope of the AIS problem.

“They’ve pleaded with us over and over that it’s beyond what Game, Fish and Parks can do on its own,” Hepler said.

That’s part of why, Jensen said, GFP shouldn’t be the only department of state government working to slow the spread of AIS. GFP does not have the authority to regulate who pumps what water out the Missouri River for agricultural purposes and can’t control what happens to that water once it’s been pumped.

That’s a big problem because Zebra mussels spread primarily when their young, which are known as veligers, are sucked into ballast tanks, live wells or some other transportation tank and are accidentally dumped into an un-infested body of water.

That means irrigation has the potential to spread zebra mussels, for example.

“There’s other players involved here,” Hepler said.

Instead, said GFP AIS coordinator Mike Smith, the best that can be done is to slow the mussels. So far GFP has been able to tighten regulations regarding what anglers and boaters can do with their boats and bait. But that’s not going to be enough, Hepler said.

“It’s the proverbial finger in the dyke,” he said.

It’s a job that Game, Fish and Parks can’t do on its own. The job is just too big, Jensen said.

“I would just like to see us get started,” Jensen said.

Hepler said Jan. 13 that he has already begun speaking with other department secretaries about the effort.

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Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, https://www.capjournal.com

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