TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday proposed spending $14 million over the next two years in a stepped-up fight to head off more invasions by exotic species that spread disease and threaten Michigan's native plants and wildlife.
The governor's budget would add about 16 positions in three state departments to strengthen early detection capabilities and work more closely with local governments and organizations, said Keith Creagh, director of the Department of Natural Resources.
"Historically we've waited for the pest to make an impact before we've responded, and we've not been as successful as we need to be," Creagh told The Associated Press. "We need to get ahead of the curve."
Snyder's plan seeks $6 million for the initiative in the 2014-15 fiscal year and $8 million in 2015-16. He also requested nearly $11 million for water quality and wetland preservation programs and for replacing a DNR Lake Huron fisheries research vessel.
The Nature Conservancy said the proposals would be Michigan's first significant increase in general-fund spending on natural resources and environmental protection in more than 30 years.
"Our natural resources make Michigan the place where people want to live, work and play," said Tom Cook, chair of the nonprofit organization's Michigan board of trustees. "Funding to these programs is critical to the health of our natural resources and the future of our state."
More than 200 non-native species have taken hold in the Great Lakes watershed. Aquatic invaders include the parasitic sea lamprey and the quagga and zebra mussel, which have caused billions of dollars in damage to fish populations and infrastructure.
On land, feral swine damage crops and wetlands, while insects such as the emerald ash borer and beech bark disease devastate forests. Thick, towering reed grass called phragmites has overrun shorelines around Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay. Eurasian watermilfoil depletes oxygen and clogs boat motors in many of the state's inland lakes.
Snyder has instructed state departments that deal with invasive species — the DNR, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development — to develop a more comprehensive approach to keeping them out or limiting their spread if they do show up, Creagh said.
The government previously has fought invasions on a species-by-species basis with too little cooperation among agencies and not enough consideration of systemic problems that might be contributing to the problem, he said. The new plan calls for a more holistic approach by doing things such as better analyzing and shutting down potential pathways into Michigan.
Personnel hired to work on the initiative will include DNR biologists, DEQ permit writing specialists and Department of Agriculture plant experts and veterinarians who will patrol the state's ports, where invaders such as the ash borer have arrived in wooden packing materials.
Another point of emphasis will be working with local government agencies and nonprofit groups. The budget calls for allocating $2 million in 2015, and $4 million in 2016 to local partners.
DNR personnel will help with their projects, such as establishing stations where boats can be washed to prevent invaders from hitchhiking from one lake to another. They also will provide more information about new threats and respond more aggressively to reports from the field about potential sightings, Creagh said.
"If someone called up and said they had seen an Asian longhorn beetle, historically that would have just gone into the file," he said. "Now, we'll have someone take a look at it, just in case."
The plan calls for adding $4 million a year into the base budget, meaning it would remain a fixture into the future. In two years, officials can decide whether more funding is needed, Creagh said.
"The world's gotten smaller and invasive species are becoming an issue throughout the natural resources world," he said. "The need won't go away."
Jennifer McKay of the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, a northern Michigan advocacy group, said she hoped the Snyder budget would help alleviate a funding shortage that has hampered the effectiveness of an existing state plan for aquatic invasive species, which was updated last year.
She said the proposal for local grants would boost groups like hers, which helps area landowners limit the spread of phragmites and would like to expand the project elsewhere but hasn't been able to afford it.
Nonprofits are "typically the first to identify invasive species as well as take on management and control," McKay said.
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