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Will war against invasive species get more ammunition?

Douglas County will again apply for an aquatic invasive species (AIS) watercraft inspection grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

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On Tuesday, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners authorized Land and Resource Management (LRM) Director Dave Rush to apply for the $15,000 grant.

Last year, the county received $17,800 through the same grant program, which afforded the county to hire seven watercraft inspectors for a total of 1,800 hours of work at local lake accesses.

Rush reported that approximately 1,800 watercrafts were inspected in 2013, 50 were decontaminated and there were about 25 reports of watercrafts with plant matter or water from another lake onboard.

Rush told commissioners, “It seems like an awful lot of inspection being done out there for not finding much, but part of that has to do with boaters being more careful and they understand there are some pretty significant penalties for carrying aquatic invasive species or any kind of plant matter or water or minnow.”

Rush said they intend to still hire seven inspectors for 2014 despite the opportunity for fewer grant dollars this year – about $2,800 less.

Rush told the board he intends to cover the difference with funds from the LRM department or he would seek support from area lake associations.

“I think the $15,000 covers the bulk of what we’re doing for watercraft inspections,” Rush said.

The DNR determines which lakes inspectors can be stationed at in Douglas County, particularly the lakes where the decontamination unit can be used.

The DNR also employs inspectors at lakes designated as infested waters. Rush said the county’s inspectors generally do not set up at those lake accesses.

Commissioner Jerry Johnson said, “It doesn’t seem like the DNR is real serious about this anymore. I’d be really reluctant to try to keep this going. I don’t believe there’s going to be an end to [AIS]. I think most of the lakes in Douglas County are probably infested already because of the amount of boat traffic going between lakes here. I think it’s pointless, but if you want to spend the grant money and make a showing out there… $15,000 isn’t going to go very far. I say spend the grant money but without putting any tax dollars into it.”

Commissioner Bev Bales said, “I don’t think it hurts for Mr. Rush to contact the lake associations to see if they’d be interested if in fact we get the grant and the board approves it without using any further tax dollars.”

Commissioner Jim Stratton added, “I think this is really an education issue. I don’t think your average fishermen are the issue. I think it’s the occasional pleasure boater who backs in, pulls out, doesn’t pull their plug. Those are the ones we need to address.”

Rush said he should know by the end of February if Douglas County receives the grant.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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