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An editorial in the July 24 Tomahawk Leader. Comments are welcome here or refer to the Fishing with Jed thread for more about fishing topics, tips, and more.
U.S. Hwy. 51 checkpoints to stop VHS spread The real tragedy that will occur if we are unable to stop the deadly fish virus viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) from spreading into our Northwoods lakes is that we know it’s coming and we have the resources to delay the infestation. The best way to rationalize VHS control is to liken it to those who are infected with a virus. First, you limit the contact the sick have with the healthy population. Then, you take preventative measures to keep the healthy population safe.
Lake Michigan and the Lake Winnebago chain already have confirmed cases and Lake Superior will most likely soon join that list. The state Department of Natural Resources estimated 4,000 boats were on the Winnebago system alone the weekend VHS was detected. If just one-quarter of those boats left the chain that weekend, you’d have potentially 1,000 new hosts that could have unknowingly spread the virus. Take into account VHS can be spread by not draining a boat or by simply forgetting to empty a bait bucket, and the need for proactive measures become apparent.
Fortunately, Lincoln, Oneida and Vilas counties have an opportunity to limit the chance of having our lakes infected. U.S. Hwy. 51 is the major thoroughfare visitors traverse to get to our Northwoods region. By controlling this main artery with stop-gate checkpoints, we could potentially ward off or at least delay the spread of VHS. The checkpoints would work by requiring each vehicle trailing a boat, or jetski, on U.S. Hwy. 51 to be pulled over, perhaps on major holiday weekends. Bait buckets would be emptied and boats would be checked to assure no water is being transported. Nobody likes checkpoints. However, Minnesota currently uses this approach to ensure visiting Wisconsin anglers aren’t over-harvesting fish. Signs inform anglers of the upcoming checkpoint and game wardens ticket those who are in violation, and state patrol deals with those who decide not to stop. A simple checkpoint located in Vilas and southern Lincoln counties would greatly increase our chances of stopping VHS before it reaches our waters.
Northern Wisconsin also has in place a group of trained volunteers who could implement the practice. Working with state DNR officials, “Clean Boats, Clean Waters” volunteers could check these boats for not only VHS, but for other invasives, too. Under the recently-enacted statewide program, these volunteers monitor their lakes individually. By banding together, those concerned about protecting our waterways could have the greatest impact by stopping the majority of boats coming in from unknown areas and heading for unknown territories. Currently, the DNR has in place rules to delay the spread of VHS. They’ve also placed signs at public boat ramps informing boaters that the Winnebago chain is infected with the fish virus. However, similar signs were posted when the exotic species Eurasian water milfoil was first detected in an inland lake and later when zebra mussels were found. By 2006, an estimated 475 Wisconsin lakes were reported to have Eurasian water milfoil and 100 were infested with zebra mussels.
The Northwoods’ economy doesn’t need another hitchhiker. Tourism alone could be devastated if VHS makes its way to our waters. Between June and August, Lincoln, Oneida and Vilas counties annually experience their highest rates of tourism revenue. In both Lincoln and Oneida counties, nearly 40 percent of the tourism industry occurs during this summertime period, or just over $22 million in Lincoln and nearly $25,750,000 in Oneida. Vilas is even more dependent on summertime tourism, with 47 percent of yearly tourism revenue generated during the summertime period. In 2005, Wisconsin had 636,258 registered boats and a $2.3 billion fishing industry. The tri-county area that is intersected by U.S. Hwy. 51 has a total of 3,166 lakes. While VHS doesn’t physically harm humans, it’s only a matter of time before the deadly fish virus negatively affects each individual living in the Northwoods.
The threat VHS poses to our inland lakes is real and odds are it will one day hitch a ride here. While we can’t check each boat that enters the Northwoods, we can delay the innevitable and raise public awareness by enforcing checkpoints. It begs the question, are our Northwoods lakes a valuable enough resource to demand checkpoints?
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