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Tuesday, September 02, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 1/19/2014

OUTDOORS

Endless talk amounts to just kicking Asian carp down the road

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presented Congress and the taxpayers with a much anticipated report on our options for keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

The dossier took 232-pages to tell us to get out the checkbook, and then hold your breath for 25 years while they try and fix this mess.

The key plan in the proposal, in terms of getting us near to a permanent closure of the barn door before all of the horses have skedaddled — a re-separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds — comes with a price tag estimated at more than $18 billion, and a time frame estimated at a quarter of a century.

Can we name one huge federal project that has come in on time and on budget ... no ... so we better tell the kids to get out their checkbooks, and maybe warn the grandkids, too.

While we are wincing over the prospect of that financial bite, we are reminded of how our system seems to work — its sand-filled gears grinding as it wobbles along on four flat tires, with endless friction crippling its engine.

Asian carp were imported into the U.S. in the early 1970s.

They were used to control plant growth in fish farms and sewage treatment ponds in the south, since they are filter feeders that eat zooplankton, phytoplankton, and algae.

Through floods or careless control methods, some escaped these impoundments and, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as early as 1975 Asian carp were detected in the White River in Arkansas, which flows into the Mississippi.

This is 2014, and over the past three or four decades we have had hearings and studies, and workshops and symposiums, and town hall meetings and reports — but we have done very little in terms of physically preventing these prolific and aggressive aliens from destroying the ecosystems they soon dominate.

The Corps put up electrical barriers of suspect effectiveness along the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, that manmade link between the two watersheds that is the superhighway the carp can use to reach Lake Michigan. That barrier is about the only federally established stop sign the carp have encountered on their relentless march throughout the Mississippi River system, an assault that has taken them all the way to downtown Minneapolis, and has them knocking on the door of the electrical barrier, just a few miles from Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes.

So under intense pressure from Congress and the president, who have been under increasingly intense pressure from their constituents, the Corps hatched these new plans. The carping from Chicago commenced.

One man whose business uses the canal told the Chicago Tribune that: “Hydrologic separation, in my opinion, is an irrational, costly and irreversible response ...”

Let’s hope God doesn’t read that — she might be offended since the way that terrain was originally laid out, the continental divide created just such a hydrologic separation between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds. Only when man stepped in more than a century ago and reversed the flow of the Chicago River, to send Chicago’s sewage down the Des Plaines and Illinois rivers and into the Mississippi, was the continental divide formally corrupted and the hydrologic separation officially breached, opening the door for the big, bad wolf, or carp.

What makes these invasives much more threatening than others is their size — bighead carp can reach 100 pounds — their ability to proliferate — in some sections of the Mississippi River system 90 percent of the fish are now Asian carp — and their devastating impact on our native species — these carp out-eat and out-breed everything else.

Our Ohio and Michigan senators and representatives have been vocal in their support of turning back the Asian carp tsunami with a permanent separation of the two water systems.

They have worn out a lot of soap boxes just talking about this, while demanding very little. Regardless of party affiliation or whose toes might get crunched in the process, this is time for demonstrative action.

Stump speeches no longer carry any clout. Bang your shoe on the desk, a la Nikita Khrushchev.

Whatever solution we attempt will no doubt be painful, and expensive. Solving major problems is never easy, or cheap, and saving the Great Lakes and its $7 billion fishery from the scourge of Asian carp won’t be either.

The fishermen, the boaters, the conservationists, and the environmentalists — we can’t fix this.

The government and its agencies control these waterways, and our elected officials allocate them the money to do so. So please, no more speeches, no more platitudes. Work on a permanent barrier to keep these invasive fish out needs to start right away.

Otherwise, we are just kicking the carp down the road, and soon they will land right in Lake Erie.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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