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Real backlash: Invasive species

Jim Ford of Glencoe, left, pulls his boat up to the dock at Norway Lake as Randy Clark of Young America watches during last weekend's fishing opener. New regulations have been put in place for boaters to help prevent the spread of invasive species. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR - A cool, wet fishing opener hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of anglers with the Little Crow Anglers or the West Central Bassmasters.

The lakes of Kandiyohi County offer great fishing, and members of the two county-based fishing organizations are looking forward to the season ahead, said seven representatives of the organizations during a recent meeting at the West Central Tribune in Willmar.

But first, they'd like to clear the muddied waters. Recent news stories and letters published in county newspapers leave them feeling that anglers in general and tournament anglers in particular are being unfairly targeted in the fight against the spread of aquatic invasive species in Kandiyohi County.

"We want to see our lakes protected. We want to see our lakes used in ways that they have been. And, we don't want to see lakes being limited,'' said Dean Eichelberger, Little Crow Anglers.

Boat users of all types have a responsibility to follow the law. There's good evidence to suggest that fishermen and women are doing so.

Take the case of Eurasian milfoil. It reached Kandiyohi County more than 10 years ago. It has infested four lakes to date, including Florida, Calhoun, Norway and Green.

The four lakes are among 12 to 20 lakes in the county that see lots of angler boat traffic, noted Mike Nitchals of West Central Bassmasters. If anglers were not being careful, the invasive plant would be found in many more lakes, he noted.

The local anglers ask why so much attention is focused on the boats of anglers, when they represent only a fraction of the traffic on the lakes, quite likely less than one-fourth.

"You couldn't fish on the 4th of July if you wanted to,'' said Dean Drexler, Little Crow Anglers, of the pleasure boats that converge on Green Lake.

Tournament anglers feel they are unfairly being singled out as the biggest threat to spread zebra mussels to the county's waters.

It makes no sense to Ron Markfelder of Little Crow Anglers. He has long enjoyed tournament fishing and helps host events. Organizers go out of their way to inform participants about the laws and help them abide by them to prevent the spread of invasive species, he said.

"To say that this problem of invasive species is a tournament problem is missing the point completely,'' said Nitchals. "It may be a boating problem, it may be a lake problem, it may be an environmental problem, but it is not a tournament problem,'' he said.

He noted that Eurasian milfoil was found in Green Lake at a time when bass couldn't be harvested, and no bass tournaments had been held.

It's also unfair to suggest that Green Lake or Kandiyohi County sees a disproportionate share of tournament fishing. There are hundreds of fishing tournaments held on lakes all across the state each year, and many of the state's best known waters hold far more tournaments than Green Lake in any given year, the anglers said.

Ultimately it will prove impossible to prevent the spread of zebra mussels, even if every public access were closed, warned the local anglers. Nature alone will assure that: Cormorants, herons and all types of waterfowl fly from lake-to-lake and can spread the microscopic veligers of zebra mussels. And of course, most lakes are connected by streams.

No matter how hard we may try, human activities will surely spread invasive species too. Squirt guns filled by children in one lake and discharged in another can spread the microscopic organisms. A water skier's tow rope tossed in a boat can harbor them. And how does anyone ever know for sure that the microscopic organism is not in the metal poles of a dock being moved to another lake, the plumbing of a boat motor, the underbelly of a pontoon boat or inside the trailer carrying it?

"We should spend our time trying to figure out how to get rid of them rather than how we spread them,'' said Jerome Jakobson, Little Crow Anglers.

He also voiced the opinion of the other anglers in urging a need for cooperation. "Being conscientious about what you do is one thing, but for the anglers to point fingers at the lakes associations or for the lakes association to point fingers at anglers isn't solving any of the problems,'' he said.

Said Eichelberger to set the tone for the group: "We're more interested in working together than not working together.''

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335