Protecting our Favorite Places

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Water. As humans, we flock to it. We play in it, we work in it. We read about it, we dream about it. We drink it on purpose, we drink it on accident. We use it, we abuse it, we celebrate it, we fight over it. And we all need it. Water connects us all, no matter the part it plays in our lives. As boaters we, in turn, are the connection between otherwise unlinked watersheds when we move our boats from one waterway to another.

As a byproduct of globalization, wherever people have gone, aquatic invasive species (AIS) have followed. Once they’re introduced into a new watershed, aquatic invasives begin the process of invasion, slowly changing the landscapes of our favorite places. They can affect our community water supplies, water treatment plants, hydro-electric dams, and the many municipal pipes that crisscross beneath our urban landscapes.

What was once a side effect of globalization has graduated into a full-blown problem unto its own. One example is the quagga mussel, an AIS originally from Eastern Europe. Quagga mussels have spread from a single infestation in Lake Erie to hundreds of bodies of water in 30 states and counting. Invasives like the quagga now cost our federal government more than $137 billion per year annually, with states spending millions more on top of that.

The chances that boaters come into contact with, then spread, an invasive species is much higher today than it was even a few years ago. Between the sharp shells AIS leave behind, the biodiversity havoc they wreak and their associated economic impacts, we should all be concerned with containing their spread. So what’s a boater to do?

By following a few easy steps, you can minimize your part in the spread of invasives. By cleaning, draining and drying your equipment, and stopping at boat inspection stations, you’ll help protect your favorite places while maintaining your gear. Here’s how:

Clean: Make sure your gear is clean before you hit your next watershed. Just make sure your gear doesn’t have mud, sand or river salad hanging from it before you pack up and leave the water. There are as many different ways to clean gear as there are boaters; buckets, sponges, towels and brushes can all be useful tools as you rinse your gear off near the take-out, at home, or at the car wash.

Drain: Make sure you aren’t unintentionally providing an oasis of moisture for invasives to survive in. Draining your gear simply means not leaving any standing water in your boat or other gear. Sop up any standing water you see in the nooks and crannies with a towel or a sponge.

Dry: After you’ve cleaned and drained your gear, let it dry however you’d like. Leave your wet gear in the sun. Let the wind dry your boat off as you drive down the highway. Your chances of spreading invasive species are much lower if everything’s dry to the touch, boat straps and all.

Most western states and provinces now have mandatory boat inspection stations where all boaters are required to stop. The folks manning these stations are just another set of eyes to help prevent boats from accidentally transporting AIS into local waters. If you’ve followed the above steps, stopping at any boat inspection station you come across should be pretty painless.

For boaters, life’s all about water. It’s in The Important Places. It’s what we’re Drawn To. It’s in Our Public Lands. And it’s simple. We can clean, drain and dry our equipment. And we can stop at boat inspection stations. Whether we’ve rafted down the Grand Canyon, practiced the latest SUP yoga moves, or paddled down our favorite no-name creek, we are uniquely positioned to protect our favorite waters with our everyday actions.

To learn more, visit CleanBoater.org.

Editor’s Note: Guest contributor, Marya Spoja, is the Fishing and Boating Program Coordinator, Invasive Species Action Network. Photos courtesy of Dan Armstrong.