DOUG LEIER: Everyone shares responsibility in preventing the spread of ANS
For good reason, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department makes every effort to explain waterfowl hunting rules and regulations that hunters will need to know as they take the field this fall. That includes daily bag limits, species restrictions, season lengths, special zones and hunting hours.
Most of these areas of interest are set within frameworks established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But North Dakota has other rules that apply to waterfowl hunters, as well as anglers and summer recreation boaters, when it comes to aquatic nuisance species -- or ANS, as they're known for short.
The challenge of preventing the spread of ANS within or into North Dakota is great, and the responsibility lies with all of us who use state waters for recreation or work. It doesn't take Dick Tracy to figure out that stopping your kitchen sink from leaking is cheaper and a better alternative than waiting until the leak becomes a complete break. And ANS prevention fits into the same philosophy.
I've had people tell me that even with known ANS, their fishing hasn't suffered and actually is better in North Dakota now than ever before. While that may be true, North Dakota doesn't have many locations where ANS have taken over ... yet.
A slow death
In most cases, the initial presence of ANS doesn't immediately influence a fishery. It's more like a slow death, with a waterway slowly losing its integrity and value as habitat for fish and waterfowl, as well.
The change can be so slow that by the time we realize that ANS is a real problem, it is too late to do anything about it. In most cases, once a water is infested, it likely never will be completely rid of the nuisance species. Not only does this degrade the water itself, it also makes the water a potential source for infestation of other areas.
All boaters and water recreationists must understand that in North Dakota and other states, it is now illegal to transport aquatic vegetation.
Here's a rundown on how this applies to waterfowl hunters and fall anglers:
Remove all aquatic vegetation at the site. Period. Most people have no problem recognizing the "seaweed" on duck boat trailers or engine propellers, but all aquatic vegetation must be taken off before leaving. That includes decoy weights and strings that easily can transport a threat, and waders that might be carrying plant fragments.
This rule does not include emergent (above water) vegetation such as cattails and bulrushes used for making hunting blinds.
Drain the water
Drain water from all places. This is not just for boat users. It could be a floating decoy with a hole in it, literally anything holding water -- the bottom of the boat, the decoy bag, even if you fall in with your waders -- begin the dry-out process by emptying those out, too.
And one last reminder for fall fishing, there's plenty of warm October days. At least we hope so, and even when nobody is looking, or you have the lake all to yourself, please don't dump your bait into the lake. Most bait vendors do a great job of keeping the minnows free of ANS, but all it takes is one little bullhead or one seed from an unknown ANS to ruin a waterway.
We want to leave a heritage of hunting and fishing, not a legacy of what they once were. Part of that is maintaining habitat above the water, but habitat in the water is just as important.
Leier is a biologist for N.D. Game and Fish Department. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at dougleier.areavoices.com.