CUSTER, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s campaign against zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species will focus again on public awareness this year, as more boaters begin returning to the state’s waters.
That’s the message the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission received Thursday from regional fisheries supervisor Jake Davis.
There will be new approaches, too, such as fresh signage at boat ramps, greater use of state Department of Transportation message boards, more roadside inspections, and more partnerships with user groups and lake associations, Davis said.
“Gas station TV” messaging at the fuel pumps will be back. So will such themes as “Clean, drain and dry,” “SD Least Wanted” and “Pull all plugs”
The nationwide workforce shortage could crimp the effort, however. Davis said that a roving crew planned for northeastern South Dakota still needs all four seasonal employees. “They’ve been open a couple of weeks. We’ve had zero applicants,” he said.
The Game, Fish and Parks Department received a $300,000 federal grant in 2020 to use against AIS in western South Dakota on U.S. Bureau of Reclamation waters. Davis said most or all of the remaining $111,000 will be spent this year.
Because GFP doesn’t have enough staff for all the public ramps where people launch and land boats, the plan this year is to have inspection crews focus more on the highways that serve multiple water bodies, according to Davis.
He said the department also plans to again offer training to any groups that want it.
Several commissioners offered their perspectives.
“GFP has done a good job of communicating this through the years. This is another robust plan,” commissioner Stephanie Rissler of Vermillion said. But, she wondered, is the public getting the message?
Davis said the ramp and road checks indicate that people are paying attention.
“We’re seeing plug compliance rates of over ninety percent,” he said, which he called good. Neighboring states have strong AIS programs too, he noted, and that also helps.
Commissioner Julie Bartling, the Gregory County auditor and previously a long-time legislator, suggested that boat licensing offices could help spread the message.
Davis said GFP has worked with the state Department of Revenue to distribute rack cards, but he acknowledged some counties put in more effort than others.
“We’re always trying to do more,” Davis said.