SALT LAKE CITY — With 30 Utah lakes still under algal bloom advisories, state officials are warning hunters to watch their dogs while hunting waterfowl this season.
Since lakes aren’t typically monitored beyond Oct. 31 because algal blooms haven’t been an issue this late into the season in the past, Dr. Kate Fickas, who is an environmental scientist with Utah’s Division of Water Quality is worried duck hunters will think the problem is gone and not pay close attention to their dogs.
“We have both liver toxins and neurotoxins in there and that can kill a dog in a matter of 30 minutes,” she said.
Brian Draper has gone duck hunting across Utah and even the country but said he enjoys being close to home at Utah Lake.
“I love it. When you concentrate just on duck hunting, you’re calling, it’s interactive and it’s very enjoyable,” he said just before his latest adventure. “I duck hunt here, probably, maybe 12 times a year.”
Draper also knows he must be careful here.
“It’s become a real issue,” said Draper. “You do have to watch what you’re doing and watch for the algae. Keep yourself of it and keep your dogs out of it as well.”
For the past few years, algal blooms have been a growing issue at Utah Lake. It’s that greenish, cottage-cheese looking substance that is harmful if swallowed.
“You really want to wash your hands after you’re done being in the water,” Fickas said.
Fickas has also been busy with phone calls lately.
“We’re getting a lot of calls from duck hunters wanting to know where it’s safe to go,” she said.
In her Salt Lake City office, Fickas used satellite images of lakes to see where algal blooms currently are and how bad of a problem it is. She has current images for most of Utah’s bodies of water — 30 of which are currently under advisory for algal blooms.
“Just because it’s cold out, doesn’t mean this it will die off,” she said. “We’ll find them under the ice. They can hang out for the entire year.”
Even officials with Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources are warning hunters since many waterfowl hunters bring their dogs with them to retrieve birds.
“You need to keep an eye out and make sure you’re aware of what to look for, so you know what these algal blooms look like,” said Faith Heaton Jolley, Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources spokeswoman.
Fickas said scientists are studying exactly why these blooms are getting bigger and lasting longer.
“We know that the bacteria really like warm temperatures,” she said. “If it’s attributed to climate change, then this is something we could see persisting for decades to come.”
It’s also not just a Utah problem as algal blooms are on the rise in states across the country. Draper has seen them while hunting out of state but said he’ll keep hunting and taking precautions so he doesn’t get sick.
“I really enjoy duck hunting,” he said. “They’re having the same problem all the way back east, so, it just is what it is. The dogs don’t know any better, so you have to really watch them and look out for them.”