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Experts predict grim picture with invasive species

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, says during a Tuesday committee meeting that just draining water from boats when they are pulled from the water could slow the spread of invasive species. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota is fighting a losing battle against invaders on many fronts.

Experts say most of the battles are not winnable.

Species invading Minnesota range from zebra mussels to Eurasian watermilfoil.

Others, such as Asian carp, those flying fish popular on videos, are on the way.

Minnesotans need to wage their own fight against the invaders, if only to slow down their spread, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials told a House committee Tuesday night in St. Paul.

Plants and animals that compete with or destroy native organisms ride in on boats and firewood, and people often do not know it.

"This is really about people and their behaviors ... and trying to change those behaviors," Luke Skinner of the department testified to the Environment Policy and Oversight Committee.

Many of the invasions could be prevented, but once the species arrive they may be impossible to stop.

"The eradication program has been abandoned," Mark Abrahamson of the Agriculture Department said, and officials have yet to decide how to deal with the emerald ash borer that he predicted some day would spread across the state.

"I think getting to zero risk of movement is not going to happen," Skinner added about other invasive species.

To slow the invasions, Skinner suggested a "big hammer" of stricter laws could be one step.

The mussel and plant invaders can be slowed when boaters drain all water before leaving a lake. State law now only requires that when leaving an infested lake.

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said many anglers are asking that state law be extended to include draining boats after leaving any lake.

Fines for violating water transportation laws begin at $50, which Juhnke said is not enough to convince Minnesotans to follow the law. "It is just a cost of fishing."

Invasive species in or approaching the state include animals Asian carp, emerald ash borer, spiny waterfleas and zebra mussels; plants Eurasian watermilfoil and curly leaf pondweed; and the viral hemorrhagic spticemia virus.

Skinner said insects account for the "vast majority" of invaders, but the DNR tracks about 40 damaging plants out of dozens that have moved into Minnesota.

Zebra mussels are among the most troublesome invaders, taking over several Minnesota lakes, including near Duluth, in Alexandria and along the Otter Tail-Becker county line. They can clog water lines in boats, hurt swimmers and compete with native species.

The most publicized invader, Asian carp, apparently has not reached Minnesota.

However, Skinner said, they "marching their way" their way to the Great Lakes, including Lake Superior.


Invasive facts:

-- Minnesota will spend $4.8 million this year to fight invasive species

-- It is illegal to transport invasive plants and animals

-- Last year, 80 state inspectors checked 66,000 boats leaving infested waters

-- More than 800,000 water craft ply Minnesota waters every summer

-- Penalties for violating invasive species laws range from $50 to $3,000

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.