Minnesota groups seek new ways to combat zebra mussels
MOORHEAD, Minn. (AP) — Some municipalities and lake associations that have grown frustrated by Minnesota's lack of progress in combating aquatic invasive species are backing research into finding more permanent ways of stopping the pests.
Among them is the Gull Chain of Lakes Association, which took the lead in the fight against invasive species in eight popular lakes near Brainerd after zebra mussels were found in Gull Lake in 2010. The association set up a decontamination station to clean boats to prevent the spread of zebra mussels.
Although the group still spends some money on prevention by helping pay for boat inspectors, Minnesota Public Radio reported (http://bit.ly/1560ftJ) the association now plans to donate money to the new University of Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Cooperative Research Center to come up better ways to control zebra mussels.
"That in a nutshell is where we're going to start putting our money, because that's what you need — somebody that's going to come up with a way to control zebra mussels," association vice chair Ken Stover said. "We're scared to death what it's going to do to the fishing."
The center says its mission is to develop "biologically and economically sound solutions" to control key aquatic invasive species affecting Minnesota. Its strategy is to develop an in-depth understanding of the biology and ecology of key threats to determine if they have are weaknesses that can be targeted for control and eradication.
The Gull Lake Chain of Lakes Association cleaned 642 boats in 2011 to keep zebra mussels from spreading to other nearby lakes. But the next summer, it pulled the plug on the project. Stover said cabin owners wanted an aggressive approach that would decontaminate boats that left the lake and boats that came from other waters infested with any invasive species. But he said Department of Natural Resources rules limited how often and where boats could be cleaned.
In Hubbard County to the northwest, the focus is still on prevention, and so far it's worked. None of the lakes in the Park Rapids area are infested with zebra mussels. Local governments and lake associations there raised $140,000 this year to hire 22 boat inspectors and set up a decontamination station.
Ken Grob, who coordinates the aquatic invasive species program for the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations, worries about sustaining local spending long-term and would like to see more state funding.
DNR Invasive Species Unit Supervisor Ann Pierce agrees the state should provide more funding for local efforts and said local partnerships are critical to preventing the spread of invasive species. But she said the state can't afford a massive program to inspect every boat using Minnesota lakes.
The DNR's budget for invasive species programs is currently $8.5 million. Pierce said the agency will have about $1.2 million in grants available for local programs next year.