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Why Do Forests Matter in the Fight Against Aquatic Invasive Species?

It turns out that the health of forests has quite a bit to do with the health of the lakes.

That's according to the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, one of 11 federal agencies that are part of a task force focusing on the health of the Great Lake ecosystem.

Representatives of the Forest Service are in Milwaukee this week, as are water scientists and advocates from the U.S. and Canada for Great Lakes Week. The Great Lakes Commission held its annual meeting here on Monday.

Anthony Erba and John Rothlisberger work in the Forest Service’s Eastern Region headquarters here in Milwaukee. Rothlisberger, an aquatic ecologist, calls invasive species "a two-way street."

"What’s happening on the forests really does influence the lakes, and what happens in the lakes influences the forests," he says. "Forests are a really, really important component of the environment that helps keep that water clean and fresh and abundant."

He says that people who visit national forests can actually transfer invasive species to the water. For example, this was the case with the New Zealand mud snail, which has come from forests out west, like Yellowstone, and now is approaching Lake Michigan.

"A lot of that's been through anglers being out, moving around their gear and then eventually visiting the Great Lakes," he says. "And now we have populations of New Zealand mud snail in Lake Superior, Lake Erie and other locations in the Great Lakes."

Another issue is protecting the lakes from invasives that could travel through forest streams, which flow into the lakes. That's why Rothlisberger says  the Forest Service works so hard on erosion-prevention.

But the Forest Service can't prevent invasive species from entering the lakes alone. Erba, the director of planning appeals, litigation, and landscape-scale conservation, says events that bring together many partners, like Great Lakes Week, are key.

"We're finding that we may not have the manpower to do all of this," he says, "but if we link up with other agencies to do the work, we're finding a very nice outcome."

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