PO Box 342
Webster, WI54893


Invasive species ordinance gets green light
May 16, 2008

SIREN Burnett County's stance against invasive species gaining a foothold in the lakes of the county got tougher in March as the county board of supervisors approved a new ordinance making it illegal, in most instances, from transporting aquatic plants and/or animals between lakes.

Passage of the ordinance is deemed vital to further enforce a state law which was meant to do the same thing but hasn't.

"We have had problems with law enforcement," Ted Williams agreed. "The law is written in an ambiguous manner." Williams is president of the Big Wood Lake Association.

The law in question is Wisconsin State Statute 30.715. It has to do with the placement of boats, trailers and equipment in navigable waters.

For the purpose of the statute, an aquatic plant is defined as a submergent, emergent or floating leaf plant or any part thereof.

"No person may place or use a boat or boating equipment or place a boat trailer in navigable water if the person has reason to believe that the boat, boat trailer or boating equipment has any aquatic plants attached," is the language of the statute.

But there were enough loopholes in the language of the statute to make it untenable.

"There are three killer words in the law the way it is written now," district attorney Kenneth Kutz reported to a county committee in February.

"The words 'reason to believe' keep us from being able to prosecute," Kutz continued.

Sheriff Dean Roland agreed.

"Violators were going to be issued citations in accordance with state law, but the law isn't worded very well and the Department of Natural Resources determined it would have been difficult to enforce," he said.

The DNR has since talked about new wording for the statute, but admitted it would be 2009 before it was on the books.

Kutz and Roland, when they realized the State of Wisconsin couldn't get a new statute enacted for the 2008 boating season, began to draft an ordinance to protect the lakes.

The new ordinance eliminates "reason to believe" and otherwise cleans up the language of the statute. The ordinance also makes the enforcement issue a matter for the Burnett County Sheriff's Department.

"If we see weeds on a boat going down the road, the statute gives us probable cause to stop the vehicle," Roland said.

Kutz told the committee in February that for the first offense of the ordinance, a violator would pay a fine and court costs of $154.50, a second violation would be a fine and court costs of $249 and third and subsequent offenses would equal $438.

The battle against invasives began several years ago when the DNR started a program called "Clean Boats Clean Water," in which volunteers would man boat ramps to remind boaters to clean their boat of weeds before launching.

"Some of us have spent a lot of time on the "Clean Boats Clean Waters" campaign but it really isn't enough. We need to be there 24/7," Lake 26 Lake Association member Bill Dorgan noted. "That's why the web-cam is so nice."

Williams also said the volunteer ramp monitor program has not been as successful as the camera system.

The ILID program, the system Dorgan and Williams refer to, is an automated video monitoring device the DNR is using in a two-year pilot program begun last summer.

"They want to look at the effectiveness of the camera system," Williams explained of the program.

Five lakes were chosen to be part of the pilot program. It includes seven public access boat ramps: three on Yellow Lake, one on Johnson Lake, one on Big Wood Lake, one on Mud Hen Lake and one on Lake 26.

Of the 7,000-plus boat launchings captured by the ILIDS system in 2007, seven launchings were considered suspect.

"All the violators have been out-of-state boats," Williams said, "which indicates to me the word is getting out and how critical the problem is."

Kutz agreed.

"Of all the boat launches they taped last summer, I think they only had five possible violators what that tells me is people know the dangers," Kutz noted.

Roland sees passage of the ordinance as a win-win situation.

"I think it'll be more educational than punitive," he said.