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It's Our Turn - It's time to get realistic about zebras

Some people hate dandelions and will stop at nothing to rid their lawn of every last one. But despite spending millions of dollars nationwide, and untold amounts of time digging and spraying, the yellow flowers always come back. The seeds may blow in on a breeze from miles away, or they may come from the neighbor's yard, but either way they take root and spread quickly, and the battle starts all over again.

When you compare the fight against the zebra mussel to efforts to control the common dandelion, you can see what we're up against: A near impossibility.

In fighting these pesky invaders, it is important to realize from the start what we are up against and have a firm grip on reality. It's also important to not confuse activity and spending money with accomplishment.

Unfortunately, many of the efforts so far by local governments, lake associations and the DNR are at best misguided and at worst, just plain stupid.

There's a lot of optimistic talk these days about power washers, decontamination stations and mandatory inspections to stop the spread of these pests. The problem is, all these efforts are really no different than putting a fence on one side of your lawn to keep dandelions out: It's just plain not going to work. Rather than expensive decontamination stations, which look cool but in reality are like pulling one dandelion, wouldn't money be better spent on public education or maybe just posting one person at each access to educate boaters and make sure all water is drained from boats?

The problem is that on our chain of lakes alone (all of which are or soon will be infected) there are about 10 public accesses. Obviously, to completely monitor these lakes 24 hours a day would take a lot of manpower and money. Yet, even then, what's going to stop an egret or duck from flying out of the lake with zebra mussels attached to its leg, or an "infected" turtle or muskrat from migrating to another lake? And what's going to keep the water from flowing between the many lakes that are interconnected with rivers and streams?

For now, at least, total containment is an impossibility. Sure, you could put gates across all boat landings on certain lakes, as some people living on Twin Cities lakes have proposed; but that ignores the fact that those lake residents do not own the lake and have no more right to use it than anyone else.

Our best hope for now is to slow the spread. And even that might not be possible; there are many people who believe that despite all our efforts and expenditures, the zebra mussel will eventually invade all our lakes.

I'm not saying that because zebras are nearly impossible to stop, that we shouldn't even try, only that we should do it intelligently, with an eye toward what is likely to have the most impact, within the resources we have available. And we certainly shouldn't be doing things just for show, such as is the case with the decontamination stations. We also need to remember that if we get too much regulation - if government gets out of control - it won't matter if there are zebras because we won't be able to use the waters anyway.

I understand the desire to control these pests, and maybe someday we will be able to. Maybe someday something along the lines of Zequanox will solve this problem (although still not without a high cost). But for now, without extensive testing, that option is even more scary than infested lakes.

We can keep fighting, but let's be realistic: We'll probably never get rid of all the dandelions, or stop them from creeping into the neighbor's yard.


"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

AndersonLowell Anderson Lowell Anderson has worked as a writer and photographer at the Echo Press since 1998. His current responsibilities include taking photographs, preparing photographs for publication and the Internet, managing photo archives, and writing for special publications. Anderson is a 1995 graduate of St. Cloud State University, where he majored in mass communications with an emphasis in photojournalism. In his spare time, he enjoys nature photography, outdoor sports and reading.