Wildlife officers pull stolen vehicle from Osage State Fishing Lake, discover zebra mussels

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When state wildlife officials pulled a decades-old stolen vehicle out of Osage County State Fishing Lake last Thursday, they also made a grim discovery: Zebra mussels.

“We got it out of the water, pulled it onto the shore, and saw obvious zebra mussels on it,” said Captain Dan Melson, of Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism law enforcement division, Friday. “It didn’t take long to confirm them.”

With the four mussels found on a late ‘80s Honda Civic that had been reported stolen more than 25 years ago, the discovery confirmed the infestation of the third major lake in Osage County with the invasive nuisance species.

According to Melson, Osage County game warden Lynn Koch discovered the vehicle submerged with its roof about five feet under the water surface last Sunday, April 23, while running sonar in the locally popular fishing lake.

“We have sonar in most of the boats,” Melson said. “We’ve asked game wardens to check locations where cars could be dumped in lakes.”

Melson said Koch located the vehicle on the east side of the lake, off the end of a fishing pier in an area that had been closed off to vehicle traffic about three years ago. He said the vehicle was reported stolen in the early 1990s from Topeka, and it had an expiration date of 1991 on its license tag decal. The windows were all intact and vehicle had little damage except for some items removed, the captain said.

Besides collecting a few zebra mussels and serving as fish habitat, the vehicle had apparently also been a nuisance to many fishermen over the years.

“It had plenty of hooks and sinkers on it,” Melson said.

Discovery of the vehicle left investigators with a cold 25-year-old car theft case with low priority for solving, but Melson said similar efforts in the past have solved missing persons cases.

“We had repeated this same sonar work six summers ago and discovered six vehicles – two had missing persons in them,” he said.

Friday, KDWPT released confirmation of the presence of zebra mussels in Osage State Fishing Lake. KDWPT reported the officers who discovered adult zebra mussels attached to the vehicle reported the find to KDWPT fisheries staff, who verified the discovery.

Zebra mussels in Osage County

Osage State Fishing Lake and 110-Mile Creek downstream from the lake to Pomona Lake will now be added to the list of aquatic nuisance species-designated waters in Kansas, and notices will be posted at various locations around the lake. Pomona Lake was previously discovered to be infested with zebra mussels in 2014. There are no expected additional impacts to Pomona Lake from the new, upstream population from Osage State Fishing Lake. Zebra mussels were discovered in Osage County’s other federal reservoir, Melvern Lake, in 2011.

Osage State Fishing Lake is a popular lake for fishing and camping located about 20 miles south of Topeka and one-half mile southeast of the U.S. 75 and U.S. 56 junction. The lake has about 140 surface acres of water and is owned and operated by KDWPT.

Boaters and fisherman can help prevent spread of ANS

While there is no known method to completely rid a lake of this invasive species, lake enthusiasts play the primary role in stemming the spread of zebra mussels to uninfested lakes.

“Zebra mussels produce microscopic larvae called veligers that cannot be seen with the naked eye,” said Chris Steffen, KDWPT aquatic nuisance species coordinator. “At Kansas lakes with established zebra mussel populations, there may be as many as 1,000 veligers in a single gallon of lake water.”

Prevention is the best way to avoid spreading aquatic nuisance species. They often travel by “hitchhiking” with unsuspecting lake-goers.

“Remembering to clean, drain, and dry boats and equipment before moving between water bodies is the key to preventing the spread of zebra mussels. If everyone took these precautions, we could stop the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisance species,” Steffen said.

Live fish may not be transported from ANS-designated waters. The sharp-shelled zebra mussels attach to solid objects, so lake-goers should be careful when handling mussel-encrusted objects and when grabbing an underwater object when they can’t see what their hands may be grasping. Visitors should protect their feet when walking on underwater or shoreline rocks.

Zebra mussels are just one of the non-native aquatic species that threaten our waters and native wildlife. After using any body of water, people must remember to follow regulations and precautions that will prevent their spread:

  • Clean, drain and dry boats and equipment between uses
  • Use wild-caught bait only in the lake or pool where it was caught
  • Do not move live fish from waters infested with zebra mussels or other aquatic nuisance species
  • Drain livewells and bilges and remove drain plugs from all vessels prior to transport from any Kansas water on a public highway.

For more information about aquatic nuisance species in Kansas, report a possible ANS, or see a list of ANS-designated waters, visit ProtectKSWaters.org.

Photos and ANS information thanks to KDWPT.


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