PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The most effective answer to South Dakota’s problem of zebra mussels spreading into more lakes is simply having every boater clean, drain and dry their watercraft every time they leave the water, a state Wildlife Division official said Friday.
Jake Davis told the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission there will soon be a new operational plan for dealing with zebra mussels, Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species.
Many state lawmakers want to see a stronger anti-AIS effort. A legislative resolution passed unanimously in the 2022 session calling for “a description of upgrade efforts” by August 1, 2022. The Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee then met several times in recent months with state Wildlife Division leaders and state Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kevin Robling.
That’s despite a 96% compliance rate during some 18,000 roadside and lakeside inspections this year, according to Davis. His presentation Friday prompted commissioner Julie Bartling of Gregory, who’s a former legislator, to ask how many more people the division needs. Davis turned the question around and told her the solution was “the other four percent” of boaters.
South Dakota’s anti-AIS approach this year included lakeside inspections at the small number of reservoirs in western South Dakota and roadside inspections covering multiple lakes in eastern and central South Dakota.
“We can’t be everywhere all the time,” Davis said.
He said neighboring states have gone to mandatory entrance policies and locked gates in their efforts against zebra mussels but they’ve still had new detections. “It comes down to every surface water in the state, every time,” Davis said, adding that “personal responsibility” is the key.
The commission’s chair, Russ Olson of Wentworth, is a former legislator. He disagreed that South Dakota has waved the white flag.
“If we just threw more money at it, can we stop it?” Olson asked. “There has not been a threshold found yet,” Davis replied. “There’s no magic number for it…That magic number is the users, and their compliance every time.”
Olson said “105 experts” would be coming back to Pierre in January for the 2023 legislative session. He suggested that the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks give the same presentation to lawmakers early in the session. Otherwise, he said, department officials would find themselves spending a lot of time in committee meetings.
Secretary Robling said the department’s first priority is finding people to work at inspection stations next spring and summer. He described the rest of the campaign as “very aggressive” and pointed to the rapid-response team that’s been put in place to post signs and quickly spread the word when a water body has been found to be newly infested.
Robling said the AIS challenge was “like we’re running uphill.” But, he promised, “We’re far from being done.”