Wisconsin Leaves its Waters Vulnerable to Invasive Species

Sunset on Green Bay (Brian Mensching/Flickr)

Everyone’s familiar with the old “I have good news, and I have bad news” gag.  Wisconsin’s approach to aquatic invasive species could provide fodder for that joke.  Unfortunately, it’s no laughing matter.

The good news is that Wisconsin issued a permit that attempts to address aquatic invasive species contained in the ballast water discharged by ships.  The bad news is that the permit will not stop introductions of new invasive species.

To Wisconsin’s credit, it recognized that ballast water discharges of invasive species “pose serious threats to the health, economic welfare, and ecological integrity of Wisconsin waters and interfere with the uses of the waters of Wisconsin.”  The state also acknowledged that “the best strategy is to prevent them from entering the system in the first place.”

But instead of preventing their introduction, Wisconsin issued a permit that only reduces the introduction of invasive species.  The problem with that approach is that the introduction of even a single aquatic invasive species can wreak havoc on water quality and the state’s economy.  The well-known devastating impacts of the zebra mussel are ample proof of that. 

Yesterday, Wisconsin attorney Christa Westerberg and I, representing NWF and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, filed our first brief in a lawsuit challenging the permit.  For updates as the case develops, watch this space!

P.S. Wisconsin recently proposed a minor modification of its permit.  Even if modified as proposed, however, the permit only requires treatment that Wisconsin itself has described as too weak to protect the state’s waters.