By: Lindsay Chadderton, Aquatic Invasive Species Director, The Nature Conservancy

Snapshot

Blue Accounting, in partnership with state and federal agencies, launched a new suite of web-based resources and tools to support early detection of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes. The new tools help managers target their efforts to focus on high-risk species and locations across the 11,000 miles of shoreline and 94,000 miles of surface area that make up the Great Lakes basin.  Below I talk about how it came together.

The Surveillance Challenge

It’s clear that aquatic invasive species (AIS) are one of the greatest threats facing the Great Lakes region. We have witnessed the devastating effects that nonindigenous species can cause: they threaten the biodiversity and ecological stability of the Great Lakes, and ultimately harm communities and industries that rely on healthy lakes to thrive.

The issue of aquatic invasive species is complex, largescale, and currently being addressed by a variety of federal, regional, tribal, state, provincial, and local agencies. We can continue to increase the effectiveness of these ongoing invasive species management efforts by supporting coordination among these agencies. One management strategy that will benefit greatly from enhanced coordination is early detection and rapid response, which aims to prevent species from establishing and multiplying by detecting and controlling them early. Prevention and early detection are the most effective and cost-efficient methods of invasive species management. But in these multi-jurisdictional, interconnected waters, a strong and proactive approach in one area of the basin is ultimately only as effective as the weakest approach in another.

Decision-makers throughout the Great Lakes region have made it a priority to prevent the establishment of new invasive species and minimize the impact of those that are already established. Millions of dollars each year are devoted to AIS prevention and control. In 2018 alone, the U.S. and Canada spent over $24 million dollars to protect a $7 billion fishery from sea lamprey. ©M.Gaden/Great Lakes Fisheries Commission 

Collaborating Across Jurisdictions to Set Surveillance Priorities

In 2014, the Great Lakes agencies made a significant commitment to providing leadership on AIS prevention efforts in the Great Lakes region. In response to Great Lakes Restoration Initiative’s (GLRI) Action Plan I, AIS Coordinators from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin joined together to form an Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) Team. Their common goal was to develop tools and guidance that would support state AIS management plans, as well as regional surveillance and response strategies. The EDRR Team’s work and GLRI Action Plan both support the US and Canadian federal government’s commitments under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to developing and implementing an early detection and rapid response initiative.

The EDRR Team secured GLRI funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in April 2014.  Over the course of two years, the team worked with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USFWS, Wayne State University, University of Toledo and the Great Lakes Commission to develop an AIS surveillance framework (Framework). The Framework guides decision-makers through the when, where and how of AIS surveillance that underpins an early detection and rapid response strategy. The Framework leverages available regional data on high-risk species and pathways to identify and prioritize where surveillance should occur to detect new AIS.

Hydrilla in the Great Lakes.

Invasive Hydrilla poses a big management challenge once it gets a foothold. ©Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

For example, one imminent invader is the invasive oxygen weed Hydrilla. This widespread and highly damaging plant in the southern US has gained several small footholds on the edge of the Great Lakes. These infestations are under management, but there are concerns about further introductions or spread from these sites and the original sources of introduction outside the basin. The framework’s site prioritization method identifies areas with high recreational boating activity and artificial connections between the Great Lakes and neighboring basins, like the Erie Canal, as important surveillance locations for plants that spread like Hydrilla.

For every location (divided up as 9x9km grid square along the shoreline), the Framework calculates risk across all the high-risk species relative to other locations, helping managers identify priority locations for surveillance. Additionally, the Framework builds on methods developed by the EPA and USFWS to provide guidance on how to design and implement AIS surveys at priority sites to maximize the probability that AIS are detected soon after introduction. The Framework is already being used to support informed and coordinated decisions on AIS surveillance and should help prevent the widespread establishment and impacts of new AIS in the Great Lakes.

The Framework combines that geographically-specific risk across all the high-risk species to help managers set priority locations for surveillance. Additionally, the Framework builds on methods developed by the EPA and USFWS to provide guidance on how to design and implement AIS surveys at priority sites to maximize the probability that AIS are detected soon after introduction. The Framework is already being used to support informed and coordinated decisions on AIS surveillance and should help prevent the widespread establishment and impacts of new AIS in the Great Lakes.

Implementing the Framework will require an adaptive management approach to surveillance with a coordinated team of state, provincial and federal agencies and partners working together to communicate, assess, revise and adapt the Framework and their surveillance programs as the risk evolves with changing conditions and threats. That’s where Blue Accounting is supporting the EDRR Team. Blue Accounting is an initiative to facilitate the identification of shared goals for Great Lakes water resources and track progress with shared metrics. We strive to deliver timely, relevant and reliable information on progress, put in the context of the strategies being used and investments being made to move the needle. Supported by an online information delivery system, Blue Accounting offers a collaborative, adaptive management tool to support strategic decision-making and coordinated implementation. In addition to our collaboration with the EDRR Team, Blue Accounting is convening an advisory group of federal, state and provincial managers and AIS experts to build an information base and track progress in combating invasive species across all three stage of invasion: prevention, detection and response, and control of established species.

In 2018, Blue Accounting partnered with the EDRR team to make some of the key messages of the Framework and the site prioritization tool interactive and contextualized in the broader set of goals for managing AIS in the basin. You can visit the Blue Accounting AIS homepage for an overview of invasive species management in the Great Lakes, including early detection and rapid response, then navigate over to the strategies page to find plain language descriptions of detection strategies. From there, you can navigate to the results page to dive into the Surveillance Framework itself using a GIS-based tool. You can query different geographic areas you’re interested in to understand the risks at that site. We hope that this tool helps make the Framework more broadly accessible and user-friendly. We look forward to expanding the information on the website and improving it with user feedback.

Looking Forward

What we have on the website now is just the beginning. Next, Blue Accounting will work with our partners to show how our actual surveillance effort aligns with the priorities identified in the Framework to identify gaps and inform a conversation among managers about how to fill them. We are also collaborating with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to create a complementary site prioritization system for Canadian waters of the Great Lakes. Collectively, this information will help us track progress toward the implementation of an efficient and effective binational early detection and rapid response strategy for the basin. By supporting collaboration and helping managers and stakeholders tell a story about actions and progress in all stages of invasion, we hope to set the stage for a conversation with decision-makers about how to achieve our shared goals.

If you have additional questions about Blue Accounting’s AIS pilot, contact Lindsay Chadderton at lchadderton@tnc.org.

For questions about the Early Detection and Rapid Response Team, contact Sarah LeSage at lesages@michigan.gov.  

The Aquatic Invasive Species Interstate Surveillance Framework is in press, with release expected in Winter 2019.

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Download a one-pager on the Blue Accounting AIS surveillance work here.