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County moves ahead with AIS prevention

Zebra mussels are an aquatic invasive species that can cause problems on lakes by attaching to boat motors and boat hulls, docks, lifts, rocks and swimming areas. They can also clog irrigation intakes and other pipes. (Contributed)

One of the main goals of the county's Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Plan is to not only monitor infestations, but to also manage any new species that might invade Douglas County lakes.

Because of this, the Douglas County Land and Resources Management office developed the AIS New Infestation Response Plan, which county commissioners approved last week.

Having a specific plan and the materials to implement that plan are critical to the success of limiting the spread of any AIS, said Justin Swart, the county's aquatic invasive species prevention coordinator. He said the eight-page document is based on plans from other counties around the state and that he worked closely with authorities in Ramsey County.

In addition, the New Infestation Response Plan is included in Douglas County's overall emergency management plan.

The protocol for a new infestation of AIS consists of six core components:

• Report a suspected AIS infestation

• Investigate the report

• Confirm the report

• Decision-making process

• Assessment of management options and treatment procedures

• Public awareness

If a new AIS is suspected, it should be reported to either Swart or Mark Ranweiler, an invasive species specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Swart can be contacted at 320-762-3864 or justins@co.douglas.mn.us. Ranweiler can be contacted at 218-739-7576, ext. 254, or mark.ranweiler@state.mn.us.

The DNR will conduct a thorough investigation and will confirm whether the suspected AIS is a new infestation. If it is, several people will be contacted and will weigh in on the decision-making process, including the county AIS coordinator, the county commissioners, the sheriff's office, the lake association president of the infested lake and several more.

If treatment is applicable, the AIS coordinator will follow the necessary steps as outlined in the plan, including a public informational meeting.

Lastly, the county would work with the DNR on issuing a news release to get information to the public. In addition, signs would be posted at the infested lake's public water accesses.

Each step of the plan is outlined with the specific action required, the timeframe it must be complete and who the responsible authority is to make sure the step is completed.

Land and Resource Management Director Dave Rush said the new plan is a critical piece in the fight against aquatic invasive species.

"We need to have a plan in place if a new infestation is found," he said. "We needed to figure out what we need to do and the plan has the necessary steps, including steps for getting the word out to the community."

AIS annual report

As part of the county's fight against AIS, the Land and Resource Management office hires watercraft inspectors for the boating season. During the 2018 inspection period — from May 19-Oct. 14 — 10,339 watercraft inspections were completed. State law requires drain plugs to be removed from all watercraft when traveling over the road due to the risk of AIS. Approximately 97 percent of watercraft inspected had the plug removed.

Watercraft inspectors found 28 occurrences of vegetation being transported on incoming watercraft and 20 instances of attached zebra mussels. Plants were removed by hand when possible and the attached zebra mussels were treated by the decontamination unit.

Fishing boats accounted for the majority of the inspections, with 6,701 boats (64.8 percent) checked out.

Other types of watercraft included:

• Pontoons — 1,340 (13 percent)

• Runabout or ski-boat — 1,311 (13 percent)

• Personal watercraft — 643 (6.2 percent)

• Wakeboard boat with ballast — 159 (1.5 percent)

• Canoe/kayak or similar — 71 (0.7 percent)

• Jon boat — 52 (0.5 percent)

• Boat lift/dock or similar — 39 (0.4 percent)

• Sailboat — 23 (0.2 percent)

Inspectors spent a total of 4,950 hours at public accesses last year checking over watercraft that came from not only other Minnesota lakes (5,494), but 27 other states, as well as Canada. More than 93 percent of the incoming inspections were conducted on watercraft transported by vehicles with Minnesota license plates.

July was the busiest month with 3,797 inspections. The next busiest was June with 2,714 inspections. And the busiest hour for inspections was 4 p.m., with an average of 1,249 inspections.

Watercraft inspectors were typically at accesses from 8 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. unless there was a special event, such as a fishing tournament outside of those hours.

Plant survey

One of the goals of the AIS prevention plan, according to Rush, is to conduct a baseline survey of 45 lakes in the county over the next three years. Bids were solicited for the first phase of this work, which is the surveying of 15 lakes this year. After reviewing the bids, Rush made a recommendation to the commissioners to hire Blue Water Science, a company based out of St. Paul.

Fifteen lakes are scheduled to be surveyed this year. They include Carlos, Darling, Geneva, Burgen, Cowdry, Latoka, Brophy, Mina, Louise, Ida, Indian, Mary, Irene, Miltona and Vermonth. The total cost will be $42,420 to be paid for with dollars the county receives from the state aquatic invasive species fund. The Land and Resource Management's AIS budget for this year has been set at $402,000.

"We want to get a baseline of the plants in our county," said Rush. "We know Eurasian Watermilfoil and Curlyleaf Pondweed is in some of our lakes, but we don't have a good idea of other plant species in our lakes."

Summary reports for the first 15 lakes will come out in December, with the final reports available next February.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

(320) 763-1242