$5 million awarded to fight invasive species

Published 10:18 am Wednesday, February 26, 2014

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.  — About $5 million in federal grants will fund projects targeting aquatic and land-based invasive species in the Great Lakes region that threaten native fish and damage the economy, officials said Tuesday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced 11 grants under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an Obama administration program designed to make progress on some of the lakes’ most pressing and long-running ecological problems. Recipients include state and local governments, Native American tribes, universities and nonprofit organizations.

In addition to battling exotic species that have already become established, the projects “will also help to prevent the introduction of new invasive species that pose risks to the Great Lakes ecosystem,” said Susan Hedman, manager of the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago.

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The restoration initiative has pumped more than $220 million into the fight against invaders. Nearly $100 million of that went to trying to prevent aggressive Asian carp, which compete with native fish for food, from reaching the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

One of the newly awarded grants, totaling $500,000, went to Michigan Technological University to prevent the spread of Eurasian watermilfoil in Lake Huron and Lake Superior. The plant forms dense canopies, snags boat motors and may cause problems for fish.

“Instead of playing a game of catch-up, we hope to get out in front of these plants and control them,” university biologist Casey Huckins said.

Another project dealing with unwanted plants will be conducted by Ducks Unlimited, which received $500,000 to boost the quality of a 205-acre coastal wetland area in the Lake Ontario watershed by removing invasive cattails and preventing new ones from growing.

“Our goal is to create habitat for waterfowl, northern pike, muskrat, and other animals and plants that are indicators of healthy and functioning wetlands,” said Bernie Marczyk, director of conservation programs.

New York’s State Office of Parks was awarded $410,000 for a “boat stewardship” program that will educate boaters along the shorelines of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the Niagara River and the St. Lawrence River about ways to prevent aquatic invaders from hitchhiking aboard their vessels.