State cites two invasive species to look out for this year in Macomb County

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published April 23, 2021

 Lake St. Clair Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area coordinator McKenzi Waliczek holds a red swamp crayfish, which can have numerous pervasive effects on water bodies, shorelines and drainage systems.

Lake St. Clair Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area coordinator McKenzi Waliczek holds a red swamp crayfish, which can have numerous pervasive effects on water bodies, shorelines and drainage systems.

Photo provided by McKenzi Waliczek

 Water lettuce is one of the species being studied in Macomb County, posing a threat to water bodies due to its ability to rapidly reproduce.

Water lettuce is one of the species being studied in Macomb County, posing a threat to water bodies due to its ability to rapidly reproduce.

Photo provided by McKenzi Waliczek

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MACOMB COUNTY — Recent statewide grant funds will go toward the local study and control of two invasive species named on a watch list.

Six Rivers Land Conservancy was awarded $100,000 from the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program, or MISGP, that will support the Lake St. Clair Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, or CISMA, in Macomb and St. Clair counties. Six Rivers is the fiduciary for CISMA.

This grant officially begins May 1 and is in effect until the end of April 2022.

The MISGP addresses prevention, detection, eradication and control of aquatic and terrestrial invasive species in Michigan.

The entire state received approximately $3.6 million in grants for 29 projects that combat invasive species under the umbrella of the state’s grant program. The Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development; Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy; and Natural Resources all play a role.

The money will help support CISMA staff, including coordinator McKenzi Waliczek and technicians Dean Johnson, Sean Hollowell and Tylor Roberts in methods of early detection and rapid response as it pertains to the two species: red swamp crayfish and water lettuce.

Waliczek said funds will go toward education and outreach, with a main focus on the aforementioned species that have both already been found in the wild in Macomb County.

To her knowledge, as of April 6, neither the crayfish nor water lettuce have been located in St. Clair County. Statewide, both species have “have very limited known distribution” and are “fairly new” and not widespread.

“Early detection and rapid response is really crucial for increasing our chances of preventing their establishment before they become widespread” and have impacts on ecological and social aspects of society, she said.

The red swamp crayfish is native to the Mississippi Delta region. She said the species is very invasive around the globe, except for in Australia and Antarctica.

Their presence arose in 2013. Originally thought to be used as bait, they became more common in popular fishing locations. As of 2019, Waliczek said live infestations became known.

Red swamp crayfish are “very aggressive” and can walk almost a mile on dry land — “nothing our native crayfish can do.”

These are also larger than native crayfish, preferring soft-moving waters — including natural waters like streams, man-made infrastructure like retention ponds or drainage systems that field growing crops, or wetland areas.

Once there, the crayfish can essentially “burrow prevalently” in such waters. Some may stay for an indefinite period of time, creating new burrows “which can then lead to erosion issues and have costly economic impacts.”

“These species can also disperse into water bodies that are not necessarily connected to other tributaries,” she added. “It raises concerns because they have more ability to spread in a local community.”

Water lettuce, an aquatic species and plant that floats on the top of water bodies, has a large capacity to quickly overrun systems.

Waliczek said the species is deemed “one of the world’s worst weeds because of the rapid mass growth rate.” It also targets slow-moving rivers, channels and streams. Once there, they can revegetate as pieces break off, grow and spread via reproduction.

The undesirable effects can be numerous. Water lettuce can rapidly overtake water bodies, affecting aspects of parks and recreation while simultaneously hindering oxygen levels for other fish and vegetation.

While water lettuce is legal for sale in water garden and aquarium-type settings, Waliczek said the goal is not to prevent sales but to educate individuals on the proper disposal of the species at the end of a season, normally in the fall before winter strikes.

Their viability in winter is unknown.

“Oftentimes, people are dumping them into wild waterways … and then they can quickly and rapidly take over that system,” she said.

People who come across either species can report them to the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network, which includes online tools and phone apps that connect to local and state resources for follow-ups and eradication.

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