By Tom Nelson,
president of Minnesota Coalition of
Lake Associations, Deer River, MN
Last week the Minnesota DNR announced that a boat and trailer recently used on Lake Minnetonka was found with both zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil as it left Lake Bemidji. Personal responsibility did not work this time (as hoped) to help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS).
The DNR news release also noted the dismal compliance of Minnesota boaters with the AIS laws.
Even more disturbing, is that in the last six weeks, the DNR announced that three more lakes chains have been infested with zebra mussels. The list of zebra mussel-infested waters now has grown to about 163 Minnesota lakes. These range from the metro area and central lakes to many popular destinations such as the Brainerd lakes area, as well as lakes further north in Itasca and St. Louis counties.
Some of the nastier invasive species, like zebra mussels, cause permanent damaging ecological impacts to the fish habitat. The resulting long-term changes will damage our state's economy, recreational activities, tourism and our way of life. Minnesotans do not want to see disruptions in the fish habitat, lakes bogged with thickets of weeds, beaches full of shell shards, and clogged water supply infrastructure. AIS infested waters put our Minnesota heritage at risk.
It is time to re-think the current approaches to stop the spread of AIS as they just are not working. The original strategy was to educate boaters on AIS and hope that they would take AIS on as their personal responsibility. Education and awareness was coupled with occasional inspections and decontaminations at infested lakes. That unsuccessful model must be replaced by new approaches to stop the spread of the species now in Minnesota and new species that, unfortunately, are at our doorstep.
You can't stop new species from entering a lake when AIS inspections take place on the way out of a lake. Minnesota needs to dramatically accelerate watercraft inspection and decontamination efforts to make sure that all boats entering our public waters are free of AIS.
The Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations (MN COLA) has applied to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for a grant to purchase more decontamination units and the land to locate them if necessary. These funds would be available to local government units. Having decontamination units widely available to the public will make it easier for well-intending boaters to fulfill their personal responsibility in halting the spread of AIS.
Decontamination is effective on many types of AIS as well as the zebra mussels. If an owner requests their boat be decontaminated they should never be turned away, as has been reported.
So far, research efforts seem to be as spotty as personal responsibility. While stopping the Asian carp has become the top priority, the mussels have been left to claim one lake and watershed after another.
Personal responsibility is key to stopping the spread of AIS, but it isn't enough. No one has the right to infest a lake. There must be consequences to irresponsible actions. Government involvement is critical to ensure that the AIS laws are being followed and our public waters are being protected.
It is time for the legislature, the Governor, the DNR to take bolder action that will stop the spread of AIS. Our future generations are counting on them to do more.