TRAVERSE CITY — Gov. Rick Snyder wants to spend $14 million over the next two years in a stepped-up fight to head off more invasions by exotic species that spread disease and threaten Michigan’s native plants and wildlife, according to a state official.
The proposal, part of Snyder’s fiscal 2014-15 budget being released Wednesday, calls for adding about 16 positions in three state departments to strengthen early detection capabilities and work more closely with local governments and organizations, said Keith Creagh, director of the Department of Natural Resources.
“Historically we’ve waited for the pest to make an impact before we’ve responded, and we’ve not been as successful as we need to be,” Creagh told The Associated Press. “We need to get ahead of the curve.”
More than 200 non-native species have taken hold in Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes watershed. Aquatic invaders include the parasitic sea lamprey and the quagga and zebra mussel, which have caused billions of dollars in damage to fish populations and infrastructure.
On land, feral swine damage crops and wetlands, while insects such as the emerald ash borer and beech bark disease devastate forests. Thick, towering reed grass called phragmites has overrun shorelines around Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. Eurasian watermilfoil depletes oxygen and clogs boat motors in many of the state’s inland lakes.
Snyder has instructed state departments that deal with invasive species — the DNR, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development — to develop a more comprehensive approach to keeping them out or limiting their spread if they do show up, Creagh said.
The government previously has fought invasions on a species-by-species basis with too little cooperation among agencies and not enough consideration of systemic problems that might be contributing to the problem, he said. The new plan calls for a more holistic approach by doing things such as better analyzing and shutting down potential pathways into Michigan.
Personnel hired to work on the initiative will include DNR biologists, DEQ permit writing specialists and Department of Agriculture plant experts and veterinarians who will patrol the state’s ports, where invaders such as the ash borer have arrived in wooden packing materials.
Another point of emphasis will be working with local government agencies and nonprofit groups. The budget calls for allocating $2 million in 2015, and $4 million in 2016 to local partners.
DNR personnel will help with their projects, such as establishing stations where boats can be washed to prevent invaders from hitchhiking from one lake to another. They also will provide more information about new threats and respond more aggressively to reports from the field about potential sightings, Creagh said.
“If someone called up and said they had seen an Asian longhorn beetle, historically that would have just gone into the file,” he said. “Now, we’ll have someone take a look at it, just in case.”
The plan calls for adding $4 million a year into the base budget, meaning it would remain a fixture into the future. In two years, officials can decide whether more funding is needed, Creagh said.
“The world’s gotten smaller and invasive species are becoming an issue throughout the natural resources world,” he said. “The need won’t go away.”
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