It Takes a Village
BY JENNA TEWS, LUDINGTON BIOLOGICAL STATION
Every three years the Sea Lamprey Control Program’s lampricide control teams set up camp in the town of West Branch, Michigan, to treat the Rifle River for invasive sea lampreys. Larval sea lampreys in the Rifle River require three to four years to grow large enough to metamorphose into the parasitic life-stage and migrate downstream to Lake Huron, where they devastate Great Lakes fisheries. Therefore, the Rifle River complex, with its numerous tributaries, has been treated roughly every three years since 1969. And it takes a village to treat the more than 100 stream miles within the Rifle River, which is infested with nearly 1.3 million larval sea lampreys.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), together with our partners from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Canada, joined forces for a 10-day trip during the second week of August to accomplish this task. A staff of 25 traveled across the Mackinaw Bridge from the Marquette Biological Station to meet up with the 17 staff from the Ludington Biological Station. Personnel from DFO also made the journey down from Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, with 14 of their staff. With nearly 60 crew members came all the field equipment necessary to accomplish this large lampricide treatment effort. The parking lots of two hotels were lined with over 30 trailers, providing work space and equipment storage.
Field vehicles traveled in and out of the small town of West Branch to collect water chemistry data around the clock. Flashing lights atop trucks dotted the landscape of the small farming community as water samples were collected at nearly every road crossing. Orange treatment notification signs decorated the bulletin boards at public access sites to notify the public of the impending treatment. One by one, a portion of the equipment trailers were distributed from the parking lot and setup along the stream. The stage was set to control this invasive predator.
After preliminary data were collected for several days, a treatment strategy plan was developed by the lampricide control team, and a well-laid plan was put into action. Once lampricide was introduced at the headwaters, maintenance applications were implemented in order to maintain lethal concentrations as the chemical bank diluted downstream. A constant rotation of staff from the Service and DFO traveled up and down the country roads around the clock for five days to maintain the lampricide applications.
The minimum amount of lampricide required to effectively kill sea lampreys was maintained throughout the infested reaches of the Rifle River. Thousands of dead sea lampreys were observed during treatment throughout the infested tributaries and the mainstream. This overwhelming task involved dozens of applications with twice as many sites sampled for lampricide concentrations. Successfully treating over 100 miles of stream relied upon coordination and partnership between the Service and DFO. Every staff member played an important role in accomplishing the treatment of the Rifle River. It truly took a village.
The Sea Lamprey Management Program continues to work closely with partners to control populations of sea lampreys in tributaries of the Great Lakes to protect the fishery and related economic activities in the basin (an estimated annual benefit of more than $7 billion/year to the region). The Service delivers a program of integrated sea lamprey control in U.S. waters of the Great Lakes in partnership with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.