Invasive Species

Stop the Spread of Invasive Species!

The ESLA works diligently in stopping the spread of invasive species on our ecosystem. The first step to combat the spread is to correctly identify the threats to our ecosystem both on land and in the water.

Invasive Plants

(Phragmites australis)

Also known as the common reed, is an aggressive wetland invader that grows along the shorelines of water bodies or in water several feet deep. It is characterized by its towering height of up to 14 feet and its stiff wide leaves and hollow stem. Its feathery and drooping inflorescences (clusters of tiny flowers) are purplish when flowering and turn whitish, grayish, or brownish in fruit. Eventually, Phragmites become the sole dominant plant in many of these wetlands at the expense of native flora and animals dependent on these native habitats. Invasive Phragmites are negatively affecting the shoreline of our neighbors living on the East Bay of Grand Traverse Bay. They are being effectively addressed by concerted efforts by the Antrim Soil Conservation District in partnership with townships and property owners and associations.

In 2009, ESLA performed a thorough survey of the shores of Elk and Skegemog lakes and identified only naturally occurring Phragmities and no invasive species. We will repeat this survey during 2011. For assistance in discerning the difference between the naturally occurring species and the invasive species, visit the TOM website provided above.

Eurasian watermilfoil
(Myriophyllum Spicatum)

Is a native to Europe and Asia that was first documented in North America in the mid-1940s. Since its introduction, it has spread to more than 40 states in the US and to three Canadian provinces. Unfortunately, Eurasian watermilfoil has invaded many Northern Michigan lakes including Burt, Long, Paradise, and Walloon Lakes. We have not had any infestations in Elk or Skegemog Lakes, but there were recent beds discovered in Clam River/Lake and in the northernmost lakes of ERCOL.

As Eurasian watermilfoil takes hold in a lake, it causes problems for the ecosystem and for recreation. It tolerates lower temperatures and starts earlier than other aquatic plants, quickly forming thick underwater stands of tangled stems and vast mats of vegetation at water’s surface. These dense weed beds at the surface can impede navigation – and no one likes to swim in areas thick with aquatic plants. The lake ecosystem suffers because Eurasian watermilfoil displaces and reduces native aquatic plant diversity, which is needed for a healthy fishery. Infestations can also impair water quality due to dissolved oxygen depletion as thick stands die and decay.

To learn more about Eurasian Watermilfoil and how to fight back
Visit: Weevil Wonders

Please report any suspicions of Eurasian watermilfoil to your ESLA zone captain.

Purple Loosestrife

Purple loosestrife is an invasive wetland plant that is beautiful, but dangerous. Imported in the 1800s for ornamental and medicinal uses, purple loosestrife poses a serious threat to wetlands because of its prolific reproduction. The plant has been reported in every state except for Florida. Unfortunately, it is still sold as an ornamental plant in many states. Purple loosestrife has gained a strong foothold in many North American wetlands, rivers and lakes, including many in Northern Michigan.

Native to Europe and Asia, purple loosestrife can be identified by its purple flowers which bloom from June to September. Purple loosestrife produces square woody stalks 4 to 7 feet high. Leaves are heart or lance shaped and flowers have 5 to 7 petals.

Due to the long flowering season, purple loosestrife plants have the ability to produce millions of seeds each year. In addition to seeds, purple loosestrife can also replicate by sending up shoots from the root systems. The underground stems can grow up to a foot each growing season.

Purple loosestrife was documented in 2014-15 on the Torch River, Skegemog Lake and Elk Lake in the “Elk River Invasive Species Monitoring Project Report 2014-15” by Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. There were 12, 18 and 29 locations where purple loosestrife was noted on the Torch River, Skegemog Lake and Elk Lake respectively.

Purple loosestrife on Elk / Skegemog was first treated in 2018 by PLM Lake and Management Corp. The ESLA project was started in 2017 with identifying plants on the lake, creating a spreadsheet with locations and obtaining consent from the owners to chemically treat the plants. The process spilled over into 2018, where ESLA continued to get consent from owners, notified the public about the treatment via newspaper, then treated the plants.

ESLA cost shared with CAKE CISMA (Charlevoix Antrim Kalkaska Emmet Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area) for the treatment, paying ½ of the cost. ESLA’s share was $761.25.

In 2019, ESLA wanted to determine the efficacy of the 2018 treatment and how much Purple Loosestrife on the lake. ESLA’s summer intern surveyed the lake via kayak, noting GPS coordinates where purple loosestrife was found. It was difficult to determine exact locations where plants were treated in 2018, but it appears the treatment is effective. But purple loosestrife is difficult to completely eradicate with one treatment and continues to spring up.

In 2019 the majority of the plants were found along Hoiles Drive on Skegemog Lake and within the South Skegemog Natural Area. Some of this area was treated in 2018, but it is difficult to know what is new growth and what is returning growth because it is in hard to reach areas.

There were several large areas on Elk Lake treated in 2018, where property owners indicated it was 90% effective (Innis Lane, E. Elk Lake Rd). There are some areas where purple loosestrife was not noted in 2017, but was visible this in 2019 (i.e.: Palaestrum Cove, among others).

PLM has indicated that it often takes multiple years of treatment to effectively minimize the spread of purple loosestrife, so ESLA would like to continue treatments in 2020 and beyond if necessary. ESLA shared our 2019 survey results with CAKE CISMA – the map above visually shows the locations of purple loosestrife in 2019. CAKE CISMA applied for and received a grant from the Dole Family Foundation to treat purple loosestrife in the summer of 2020 in the Elk River Chain of Lakes at no cost to the Riparian / Lake Associations. However, they may be unable to treat the areas of Elk Lake in Grand Traverse County (CAKE is Charlevoix, Antrim, Kalkaska and Emmet counties). We are exploring the cost for ESLA to have those areas treated in 2020 or to wait until 2021.

Invasive Animals

Aquatic Invasive Species

At least 25 non-native species of fish have entered the Great Lakes since the 1800s. Because of the Elk Rapids dam, these invasive fish species, particularly the most harmful such as the round goby, sea lamprey, Eurasian ruffe, White perch and alewife have never entered the Elk River Chain Of Lakes (ERCOL). As ESLA participates in the relicensing of the ER dam, we will strongly oppose the inclusion of a fish ladder at the dam that has the potential of allowing any of these invasive fish species into ERCOL.

Warning: Juvenile Asian Carp may be easily confused with common minnows. Purchase your bait only from reputable sources that are routinely inspected by the Michigan DNR – question the seller!

Zebra Mussels
(Dreissena polymorpha)

are an invasive species that were introduced into the Great Lakes in the late 1980s and have found their way to our ERCOL. these freshwater bivalves colonize anywhere they can attach their tiny byssal threads. Many lake residents have indicated that thick colonies have attached to their docks, boat hulls, and water intake pipes. They are highly prolific reproducers; female zebra mussels can produce 1 million eggs per year! And, we believe that they are negatvely affecting our lakes and rivers.

The sheer number of zebra mussels in combination with their feeding habits has caused severe disruptions in aquatic ecosystems. Each zebra mussel is capable of filtering a liter of water per day; thus, removing almost every microscopic aquatic plant and animal (phytoplankton and zooplankton). This ecosystem disruption impacts aquatic organisms throughout the food chain, from tiny crustaceans to large trout. The effect of their feeding habits is easily discernable in water transparency data collected by volunteers, which shows that water has become clearer in lakes infested with the mussels. Increased water clarity has lead to yet another impact from zebra mussels; sunlight penetrates to greater depths and results in increased growth of rooted aquatic vegetation and bottom-dwelling algae, such as the increasing brown mat in Elk Lake.

What you can do to prevent the spread of this invasive species

  • Learn to identify zebra mussels
  • Inspect and remove aquatic plants and animals from boat, motor and trailer.
  • Drain your live bait wells, bilge water, and transom wells before leaving the water access area.
  • Rinse boat and equipment with high-pressure hot water (104° F), especially if moored for more than a day, or dry everything for at least 5 days.
  • Report sightings to the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council by calling (231) 347-1181 or by e-mail at

Invasive Species Law

New boating and fishing laws to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species.

Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (Act 451 of 1994) Part 413 has been amended with changes for boaters and anglers that take effect March 21, 2019. The changes are intended to strengthen protection for Michigan waterways against the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species.

What Boaters Need to Know

Prior to the amendment, the law only required that a person not place watercraft or trailers in the waters of Michigan if an aquatic plant is attached. In addition to this requirement, the new changes require all of the following prior to transporting any watercraft over land:

  • Removing all drain plugs from bilges, ballast tanks, and live wells.
  • Draining all water from any live wells and bilges.
  • Ensuring that the watercraft, trailer, and any conveyance used to transport the watercraft or trailer are free of aquatic organisms, including plants.

This means that after trailering boats, and before getting on the road, boaters must pull plugs, drain water and remove plants and debris.

Violation of the law is a state civil infraction and violators may be subject to fines up to $100.

What anglers need to know:

For anglers, these amendments codify the Michigan DNR’s Fisheries Order 245 regarding the release of baitfish, collection and use of baitfish and cut bait, and release of captured fish, specifically:

  • A person shall not release baitfish in any waters of this state. A person who collects fish shall not use the fish as bait or cut bait except in the inland lake, stream, or Great Lake where the fish was caught, or in a connecting waterway of the inland lake, stream, or Great Lake where the fish was caught if the fish could freely move between the original location of capture and the location of release.
  • A person, who catches fish other than baitfish in a lake, stream, Great Lake, or connecting waterway shall only release the fish in the lake, stream, or Great Lake where the fish was caught, or in a connecting waterway of the lake, stream, or Great Lake where the fish was caught if the fish could freely move between the original location of capture and the location of release.

Whether purchased or collected, unused baitfish should be disposed of on land or in the trash – never in the water. Any baitfish an angler collects may be used only in the waters where it was originally collected.

Anglers who are catching and releasing fish should only release the fish back into the same water or in a connecting body of water the fish could have reached on its own.

Violation of the law is a state civil infraction and violators may be subject to fines up to $100.

What you should do:

To comply with the law and prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species, boaters should:

  1. CLEAN boats, trailers and equipment.
  2. DRAIN live wells, bilges and all water.
  3. DRY boats and equipment.
  4. DISPOSE of unwanted bait in the trash.

Helpful Links About Michigan Invasive Species Laws

Michigan Legislation Targets Aquatic Invasive Species – Read More

To learn more information on invasive species contact:

Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network (ISN)

A Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA)

Join The Elk-Skegemog Lakes Association