The Zebra Mussel Scare in Nebraska
In the summer of 2010, Nebraska was seemingly free and clear of zebra mussels (after chemically treating Offutt Base Lake). But, in the fall of 2010, Nebraskan’s were hit with devastating news…twice. In September 2010, officials at Offutt Air Force Base Lake indicated that the prior treatment to eradicate zebra mussels had failed; adult zebra mussels had been found on their sampling structures, again. Then in November 2010, the Nebraska Invasive Species Project received a report from a Boy Scout that he had seen a zebra mussel at an Omaha lake while collecting cans for recycling. Shortly after, this report was confirmed: zebra mussels were now in Zorinsky Lake. The multi-agency task force decided that it was our responsibility to try something to control this new infestation at Zorinsky. Based on previous research in other states, Zorinsky Lake was drawn-down approximately 20 feet to freeze/dry out the invasive species during the winter. That fall, the state’s first Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan was approved by Governor Heineman and the national Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force – just in time to help with our zebra mussel problem.
In April 2011, the Nebraska Invasive Species Project was awarded a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to develop an Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program, and received additional funding from Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to ‘beef up’ our zebra mussel sampling. Technicians hired by the UNL Invasive Species Project (NE Coop Fish & Wildlife Research Unit) and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission sampled over 40 reservoirs from around the state for zebra mussel veligers (larvae). Zorinsky Lake was also sampled each week throughout the summer to gauge our level of success. All samples from 2011 were negative for zebra or quagga mussels. Great news, looks like the infestation was limited to Zorinsky Lake, for now. As for Zorinsky Lake – things are looking up. The lake is refilling and fish were stocked last fall. We anticipate a full recovery.
To help Nebraska Game and Parks Commission better manage zebra mussels (and other aquatic invasive species) in the future, legislation is currently in the Natural Resource Committee. LB391 would create the Nebraska Invasive Species Council and an amendment under this bill (formerly LB392) would provide powers and duties to Nebraska Game and Parks Commission relating to aquatic invasive species. It would allow for the development of rules and regulations to prevent the introduction and spread of zebra mussels and other species. Without this bill, our state agency has no regulatory authority over aquatic invasive species.
Prevention Plans and More
As we approach the spring again, we are optimistic about all the happenings associated with the Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program: the Zorinsky Lake treatment, intensive zebra mussel sampling, our tremendous outreach efforts and surveys and so much more. We are processing all of the data from our summer and fall surveys to better direct our efforts in 2012.
Boaters and anglers – plan on seeing us out there again this year. Preliminary analysis of surveys indicates that Lake McConaughy, Harlan County Reservoir, and various reservoirs in Eastern Nebraska are still at high risk for invasive species (zebra mussel) introductions. We will continue surveys and outreach at these locations, but are hoping for expansion. Zorinsky Lake and Offutt Base Lake served as great warnings; given the opportunity, we would really like to increase prevention efforts across the state. In addition, we plan to expand our program to include additional natural resources users that are impacted by other invasive species (waterfowl hunters and common reed, for example). We would like to follow the campaigns led by our neighboring states that empower recreationalists and sportsmen alike in the ‘Fight Against Invasives.