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Ben Burggraff, a student worker with the Department of Natural Resources invasive species unit out of Brainerd, scoured Lake L'Homme Dieu inspecting anything that zebra mussels could attach to, such as bricks, rocks, aluminum cans or pieces of wood. Burggraff worked with two other invasive species specialists, Dan Swanson and Nathan Olson. Echo Press photo by Celeste Beam

Zebra mussels found in Alexandria's Lake L'Homme Dieu

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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

ALEXANDRIA - A local resident found a zebra mussel attached to a coffee can in the northeast corner of Lake L'Homme Dieu in Alexandria last week.

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Mitch Gesell, who lives about two miles away from where the mussel was found, was out for a run and decided to stop at a friend's house to take a swim.

About 100 feet from shore in about four feet of water, Gesell, who happens to be a biology student, stepped on the coffee can, grabbed it from the lake bottom and when he brought it to the surface, noticed the zebra mussel attached to the can.

Gesell said he recognized the non-native species from his studies and from signs posted at public lake accesses.

"I had a sinking feeling about it and called the Glenwood Fisheries office right away," said Gesell.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources biologists confirmed that it was a zebra mussel and surveyed the lake Friday.

Gesell said he helped the DNR look for more mussels and that he found another one, which was attached to a brick, in about the same area as the first one.

As of late Friday afternoon, no more mussels had been found.

Because of the two zebra mussels that were found, the DNR is expected to designate the lake as infested waters, which will give DNR officers the authority to enforce regulations on the lake.

Based on the size of the two mussels that were found, Nathan Olson, a DNR invasive species specialist out of Fergus Falls, said they have been in the local lake and reproducing for about a year.

A non-native invasive species, zebra mussels pose serious ecological and economic threats to Minnesota's lakes and streams.

Heavy infestations can kill native mussels, impact fish populations, interfere with recreation, and increase costs for industry, including power and water supply facilities.

Olson said that zebra mussels filter a lot of water from a lake and that one mussel, similar in size to the one that was found, can filter about a quart of water a day.

While filtering the water, the zebra mussels take out all the plankton, which is what smaller fish eat, he said.

"And less smaller fish equals less bigger fish," said Olson.

Native to eastern Europe and western Russia, zebra mussels were first discovered in Minnesota in 1989 in the Duluth harbor.

They subsequently have spread to nine inland lakes, including Mille Lacs and Prior, and to portions of the Mississippi, St. Croix and Zumbro rivers.

The discovery of zebra mussels in L'Homme Dieu means boaters and anglers should take extra precautions when using this popular lake and those lakes that are connected.

Zebra mussels could pose risks for other waters, said Luke Skinner, supervisor of DNR's invasive species unit.

"As one of the larger lakes in the Alexandria area and connected to several other lakes, Lake L'Homme Dieu has significant boat traffic," Skinner said. "Everyone needs to be extra vigilant to keep from spreading these pests to other waters."

The DNR increases inspections, enforcement and education efforts around infested waters.

Under Minnesota law it is a misdemeanor to transport water or prohibited invasive species from designated infested waters.

Keith Dougherty, president of the Lake L'Homme Dieu Association, was informed of the potential threat last week. He's already contacted lake association leaders on Lake Carlos and Darling, which are also part of the chain of lakes.

"It's a serious thing," Dougherty said in a telephone interview with the newspaper Thursday. "It's not something to get real cranked up about until we know the magnitude of it but we concerned."

The find, Dougherty said, is a "wake up call" to the potential threats that can invade local lakes. He added that it should trigger changes in how vigilant the community is about watching for non-native invasive species.

Fishing tournaments, for instance, which are a common occurrence on lakes throughout the area, may have to be more tightly controlled, Dougherty said.

Dougherty encouraged lakeshore residents to get more involved with their lake association.

Lake L'Homme Dieu's annual meeting is set for Saturday, July 18 at Good Shepherd Church at 9 a.m. All those interested in protecting lakes from threats such as the zebra mussel are welcome to attend.

One bright side that Dougherty sees with the situation is that the association knows exactly what it's going up against - unlike a protracted legal dispute it had with Douglas County over the widening of County Road 42 or with the Alexandria Lakes Area Sanitary District over its plant expansion project.

"At least we have a fair chance of beating it [the mussel]," he said. "It's not a political thing this time."

Olson said if lake users find more zebra mussels, they are to take note of the specific location of where it was found, also noting what it was attached to. They should then pull the mussel off and put it in a closed container filled with lake water. The container should then be refrigerated. Olson can then be reached at (218) 739-7576, extension 259.

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