In the fall of 2016 Zebra Mussels (ZM) were found in Big McKenzie Lake and verified by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  This was the first reported findings of ZM in NW Wisconsin.  Through a grant from the DNR, the McKenzie Lakes Association (MLA) began a 3 year process of educating the public as well as instituting a monitoring program to determine the spread and density of the ZM through the McKenzie Lakes chain.   The density of ZM on the monitoring plates was 10/sq. ft for BM, less than 1/sq.ft in Middle McKenzie (MM) and none in Lower McKenzie (LM) at the end of the season in 2017.  At the end of the 2018 the densities were BM-56/sq.ft, MM-less than 1/sq.ft and none in LM.  In 2019 monitoring showed an explosive increase in the density in BM.  Monitoring plates were covered 2-3 ZM deep that an accurate count was impossible.  MM showed an increased density for an average of 45/sq.ft.   LM plates have been negative for ZM these last three years of monitoring.

Plate from Big McKenzie, Courtesy of Dave Slowinske-BM

MLA through cooperative efforts of Burnett and Washburn County Lakes and Waters Associations was able to amend the transport law was passed in 2017.  The amended transport law in addition to removing any vegetation and draining all water from a boat now requires any watercraft entering or leaving a water-body that has a decontamination station available must decontaminated their watercraft.  Decontamination can be done with either a 140 degree F pressure washer or a decontamination solution of a weak bleach solution.

Decontamination with bleach will kill ZM larvae if applied properly.  Decontamination with bleach will not kill adult ZM nor will it harm a boat’s finish or decals according to boat manufactures.  Failure to decontaminate could result in substantial fines for the boater.

Zebra Mussel Research

Scott Ballantyne, a resident on Middle McKenzie and a Professor of Genetics at U of WI, River Falls has been granted a sabbatical leave to work on a ZM project.  He will be working with a team of scientists from the Upper Midwest Environmental Research Center – La Crosse and the MN AIS Institute, at the University of MN in St .Paul.

The goal of the project is to create a bacterial strain that is harmful to zebra mussels but is harmless to all other creatures.  The plan is to use a well-established method known as RNA interference (RNAi) to specifically inactivate essential zebra mussel genes.  Bacterial strains will be engineered to elicit a RNAi response against zebra mussel gene sequences that are not found in other creatures.

Zebra mussels will be exposed to the engineered bacteria and observed to determine whether or not they shut off the target genes and whether they exhibit defects in growth, viability, or fertility.  Successful species-specific RNAi based control strategies have recently been reported for mosquitos and for several agricultural pests.  The proposed project could lead to the first application of this technology in a natural resource management program

Employment Opportunities

A number of lakes will be applying for Clean Boats/Clean Water Grants (CB/CW) for 2020 from the DNR.  These grants are used to hire CB/CW boat inspectors usually to work weekends during the summer.  Pay is up to $12/hr and training is required.  Grants are awarded in mid to late February.  Stay tuned to find out which lakes in Burnett County will be hiring boat inspectors.