Invasive species too close
WILLMAR -- Last year's discovery that zebra mussels have infested waters only an hour's drive away has become a rallying call in Kandiyohi County.
An estimated 80 or more people attended an open house on a sub-zero night on Jan. 28 in Willmar, by far the largest turn out among the five open house events the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Waters hosted across the state on aquatic invasive species.
Those attending the event in Willmar told DNR officials that they'd like to see more done to contain the zebra mussel infestations where they exist and build stronger defenses against their arrival here.
"We're going to have to be really aggressive in the prevention and containment," said Ann Latham, Green Lake Property Owners Association, adding: "Containment first."
The local concern has already led the various lake associations in the county to join in hopes of adopting a county-wide approach to stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species.
Proposals now on the table range from developing cleaning stations in the county where boaters could spray down their watercraft, to obtaining grant monies to put more inspectors at public access points this summer.
The DNR is expanding its efforts to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species, according to Luke Skinner, supervisor, and Jay Rendall, coordinator with the DNR's invasive species program. They told their audience in Willmar that funding devoted to controlling aquatic invasive species is being increased by $1 million.
Last year, 80 inspectors checked 66,000 boats at public water accesses. The DNR also beefed up enforcement. Nine conservation officers devote one-half of their time to enforcing rules pertaining to aquatic invasive species.
The department is also reaching out for help from lake associations and others. "We can't be at every lake checking everyone coming in,'' said Rendall. "We need partners."
The DNR is considering a variety of recommendations to do even more, according to Rendall. Many at the Willmar open house voiced support for one of those recommendations. It is currently a $50 fine for most offenses related to transporting invasive species.
Many said the penalty was too small for the great harm that an invasive species can cause: Once introduced to a lake, it's impossible to eradicate.
The number of infested waters in the state is growing, and more types of invasive species are causing problems. Curly-leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil have gotten much of the attention in previous years. More recently, the spread of spiny water fleas to Lake Mille Lacs and zebra mussels to the Alexandria chain of Lakes and Lake Le Homme Dieu has triggered the alarm bells in this area.
Kandiyohi County has a number of lakes that see high boating use, Green Lake in particular. The county is seen as vulnerable to infestation by boaters arriving from these other, popular lakes.
People need to know just how much harm zebra mussels can cause, and how easily they can be spread, according to Latham.
Zebra mussel larva known as veligers are microscopic in size and dispersed in infested lake waters like dust in the wind. Boaters can inadvertently carry them to other lakes in minnow buckets, live wells or even the intakes on their boat motors.
Once they infest a lake, the mussels reproduce prodigiously and attach themselves to virtually every surface. They smother out native mussels and gobble up the zooplankton, disrupting the food chain for native fish. The mussels can plug up boat motors and water intakes and their sharp shells can force swimmers to wear tennis shoes at their favorite beaches.
Conservation Officer Lawrence Hanson is among those enforcing the laws in Kandiyohi County to make certain that people do not spread the unwanted invaders. The officer has seen plenty of cases where people have left lakes with milfoil and plants dangling from their trailers like garland on Christmas trees.
More often than not, however, Hanson said he sees people being very careful about inspecting their boats and trailers and removing any sign of green. But he acknowledged it is hard to know how many people are paying heed to the need to inspect their boats because they see him at the landing, and how many are doing so when no one is there to watch.