Friday, April 21, 2017

Record number of voters elect Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District directors; residents learn about sea lamprey control

By Michele Bourdieu

Sue Haralson of the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD) administers the oath of office to newly elected HKCD Board Director James F. Tercha of Calumet following HKCD's 65th Annual Meeting and Election held Apr. 20, 2017, in the Orpheum Theater in Hancock. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- A record number of Houghton and Keweenaw County residents voted to elect two new Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District board directors this week. While about 100 people attended the Apr. 20 Annual Meeting and Election, 99 of whom voted at the meeting, absentee ballots totaled 203.

James F. Tercha of Calumet, who has served for years as HKCD's attorney, received a total of 258 votes and will serve a two-year term. Steven C. Siira, incumbent board director, was re-elected for a four-year term with 250 votes. Both Tercha and Siira have participated on HKCD volunteer projects such as the Annual Tree Sale and the Annual Beach Cleanup at the Bete Grise Preserve.

Steven C. Siira, incumbent HKCD board director, recites the oath of office for his new four-year term with the assistance of HKCD's Sue Haralson.

Other candidates for the two-year term were Mark F. Ahlborn of Houghton, who received 30 votes, and Lawrence Butala of Calumet, 14 votes. For the four-year term, runner-up Thomas G. Bryant, PE, of Eagle River, received 45 votes.

Sue Haralson, HKCD volunteer and former HKCD administrator, said this year's voter turnout was the biggest she remembers.

"During the time that I worked at HKCD from 2002 to 2013, we did have some large audiences at our Annual Meetings depending on the presentation," Haralson told Keweenaw Now. "Our elections usually consisted of an estimated 30 to 50 voters. I never had any absentee ballot requests during that time."

Many people had other commitments or were out of town this week so they mailed their absentee ballots or dropped them off at the HKCD office in Houghton, she added.

Presentation on Sea Lamprey Control

Shawn Nowicki, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Larval Control Unit supervisor, Sea Lamprey Control Program in Marquette, displays a live sea lamprey following her presentation during the HKCD Annual Meeting Apr. 20 in Hancock.

A highlight of the HKCD meeting was a presentation on sea lamprey control by Shawn Nowicki, Larval Control Unit supervisor; Sean Lewandoski, fish biologist; and Nicholas Scripps, biological science technician -- all from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Station in Marquette.

According to a Great Lakes Fishery Commission brochure distributed at the meeting, sea lampreys entered the Great Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean and were first observed in the 1830s in Lake Ontario. Slowed down for a while by Niagara Falls, a natural barrier, they spread to the rest of the Great Lakes after the Welland Canal was deepened in 1919 and were present in all the Great Lakes by 1938.

The lampreys' damage to fish is described thus: "They attach to fish with their suction mouth and teeth, and use their tongue to rasp through a fish's scales and skin so they can feed on its blood and body fluids. A single sea lamprey will destroy up to 18 kgs (40 lbs.) of fish during its adult lifetime. Sea lampreys are so destructive that, under some conditions, only one out of seven fish attacked will survive. Sea lampreys prey on all types of fish, such as lake trout, salmon, rainbow trout (steelhead),brown trout, whitefish, yellow perch,burbot,walleye, catfish, and even sturgeon."

Shawn Nowicki offers residents attending the HKCD meeting an opportunity to examine a sea lamprey close up and answers a question from avid fisherman Tom Collins, HKCD board director.

Nowicki explains to a young visitor how a sea lamprey's suction mouth and teeth attack fish. To a question on whether sea lampreys are edible, she noted they bioaccumulate too much mercury to be safe to eat.

In their presentation, the visiting scientists explained the importance of sea lamprey control for the Great Lakes. The presenters explained the main methods of sea lamprey control: using lampricides to kill sea lamprey larvae, barriers to block the upstream migration of sea lampreys during their spawning phase, and pheromones that exploit lampreys' keen sense of smell in order to bait them and manipulate their behavior to disrupt reproduction.

This slide from the sea lamprey presentation explains various steps in detecting and assessing sea lamprey larvae present in streams. (Click on photo for larger version)

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife team, the lampricides used to kill larvae once they are identified and assessed are not harmful (at the concentration applied) to humans or other mammals and have minimal effects on other fish, aquatic plants and wildlife.

Nowicki noted more than 6,000 chemicals were tested in order to control sea lampreys.

This slide explains the importance of using lampricides responsibly to avoid risks to people or the environment.

Sean Lewandoski, fish biologist, describes the barriers used to block upstream migration of sea lampreys. Nicholas Scripps, biological science technician, operates the computer for the slide presentation, while HKCD Chair Gina Nicholas moderates. Lewandoski fielded several audience questions on the effects of removing a dam on the Otter River, one of many streams where sea lamprey need to be controlled. 

The United States and Canada created the Great Lakes Fishery Commission in 1955 to control sea lampreys and coordinate research for protecting the fishery. The following graph shows the success of their efforts in restoring lake trout to Lake Superior:

This graph shows how sea lampreys were discovered in Lake Superior in the late 1930s and began to decline after the first lampricide treatments began in the late 1950s -- allowing the return of lake trout. Click on photo for larger version. Click here for more details on sea lamprey control.

Nowicki noted the success of sea lamprey control means there is no need to stock lake trout in Lake Superior.

Handing the microphone to speaker Shawn Nowicki, Nancy Langston, Michigan Tech professor in social sciences who studies Great Lakes environmental policy and history, asks Nowicki why there was a steep increase in sea lamprey before 2012. Nowicki replied it was because they had decreased their use of lampricide before that. At left is HKCD Chair Gina Nicholas.

During the Apr. 20 meeting, Gina Nicholas, HKCD chair, gave a summary of the District's "Year in Review." She mentioned the Seneca No. 3 Bat Conservation Area near Mohawk, one of HKCD's current projects, is receiving new visitor turnout. Nicholas also spoke about the Bete Grise Beach Cleanup last September and the Bete Grise picnic and celebration of Deer Lake (in Keweenaw County), the newest addition to the Bete Grise Preserve.

On Aug. 21, 2016, at Point Isabelle Park, HKCD Chair Gina Nicholas speaks to visitors during the Bete Grise Preserve Dedication of Deer Lake, the newest addition to Bete Grise Preserve. The Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District and the Stewards of Bete Grise hosted the celebration and picnic.

Nicholas also reminded the meeting audience of the upcoming HKCD Annual Tree Sale, which will be held from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 6, 2017, at 711 W. Lakeshore Dr., Houghton, on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of the sale. Click here for more info on the sale.

The mission of the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District is to advise and assist the people of Houghton and Keweenaw Counties to wisely manage and use our natural resources through education, information, technical assistance and land stewardship.

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