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New report details state's effort to fight zebra mussels, but critics want more action

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GFP
Zebra mussels

A new report from the state Department of Game, Fish & Parks details its efforts to fight zebra mussels, but a current and former lawmaker say more could be done to contain the aquatic invasive species.

The report is a response to a legislative resolution asking for a detailed description of the department's efforts.

Zebra mussels are tiny, invasive mollusks. When they invade a reservoir, they can clog dams and pipes, and limit the success of popular sport fish like walleye.

In March, the Legislature passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 602, asking the GF&P to provide the report by Aug. 1. The resolution also encouraged the executive branch to use all resources necessary to fight the spread of zebra mussels.

State Sen. V.J. Smith, R-Brookings, was one of the bill's sponsors. He said the state of Montana estimates $234 million in negative economic impact annually from zebra mussels if they become established in that state.

"This is the reason why I wanted a full-frontal assault on this," Smith said.

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SDLRC

In response to the resolution, GF&P has turned in a three-page breakdown and timeline of its efforts.

The department's overview says it inspected 12,706 watercraft during the past year, resulting in 60 warnings and 40 citations. The report says there are 12 inspection sites across the state, with 47 inspectors plus volunteers. The department's public awareness campaigns about zebra mussels have reached more than 300,000 people on social media, the report says.

Inspectors look to see if boat plugs have been pulled and if boaters have washed off mud and vegetation — which can carry the mussels. GF&P reports over 90% of inspected boats have been drained and dried after being in the water.

Tanner Davis is the GF&P's aquatic invasive species coordinator. He's proud of the work the department is doing.

"South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks is working hard to mitigate this spread and we're going to be continuing to do that, and we're always looking for more partnerships," Davis said.

GF&P's report mentions three organization the department has partnered with. Davis said they include a group that helped develop language for an awareness campaign, a group that helps with messaging items, and a group that helped with informational handouts.

Smith wanted the report to include more information.

"The report that was given to us was a look back. And what we were interested in was a look forward," Smith said.

As originally introduced, the bill that mandated the report would have brought together a task force.

Deb Soholt, a Republican former state senator, said she helped draft the bill.

“We wanted to bring a group together to say, 'All right, how can we target this? How are we going to do compliance and inspections? How are we going to use technology to try to alert people about infested lakes? How are we going to have signage?'" Soholt said.

However, Soholt and Smith said the executive branch worked to remove the task force section of the bill. They said the Governor's Office didn't see it as a pressing issue.

“And we said, ‘All right, let's just change it into a resolution where an updated report comes to the people, to the Legislature, by August 1st about a detailed description of upgraded efforts,’” Soholt said.

Soholt said the fight against zebra mussels is not yet a lost cause. Zebra mussels have been detected in 12 of the state's hundreds of lakes, said Dennis Skadsen, a freshwater biologist with the Day County Conservation District.

"So, it's not a lot of lakes," Skadsen said. "So that's kind of the impetus. We don't want it in any other lakes."

Joshua is the business and economics reporter with SDPB News.