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AIS law compliance improving but 1 in 5 boaters still in violation

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is aiming for zero violations of the state’s aquatic invasive species laws as part of the effort to stop the spread of species such as zebra mussels, shown here. (Submitted photo)

SPICER — Minnesota’s boaters are doing a better job of complying with laws to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species, but there’s still a ways to go.

One in five boaters checked by Minnesota conservation officers at roadside stops last year were found in violation of the state’s AIS laws, according to Lt. Col. Rodmen Smith, assistant director in the Enforcement Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The AIS violation rate dropped from 31 percent to 20 percent in the last two years, according to Smith and Ann Pierce, manager of the AIS program in the Ecological and Water Resources Division.

The DNR is campaigning for a “zero’’ violation rate in the coming year, they told reporters in a conference call on Friday.

Smith said boaters will see more roadside checks in the coming year. He’s aiming for 36 roadside checks this year, as compared to 18 last year and nine the previous year. Most of the roadside checks were conducted in rural counties.

Boaters will encounter similar numbers of inspectors at their favorite lakes as last year. Pierce said the DNR had 150 trained inspectors at lake accesses last year, and they conducted 123,000 inspections.

Many local governments — Kandiyohi County among them — also work with the DNR to provide their own trained inspectors. Pierce said participation by local government units this year appears to be on par with the last.

There were 3,509 inspections at 15 different lake accesses in Kandiyohi County last year.  

The Green Lake Property Owners Association is helping ramp up protection efforts in the coming year. It has invested $18,000 for a power washer system that can be used to decontaminate watercraft.

Smith expressed optimism that Minnesota can reach the goal of zero violations, but acknowledged there are challenges.

“What we are really starting to find is people know what they are supposed to do,’’ said Smith.

Still, the officers found many who forgot to pull their plugs to drain water from boats when they left lakes.

Officers also found many who removed some — but not all — of the aquatic plants dangling from their boats and trailers.

“What we’re seeing with the weeds and aquatic vegetation is people have an attitude ‘well, that is good enough. There are sure a lot of weeds on there. I got most of them.’”

Leaving any weeds isn’t “good enough,’’ noted Smith. It only takes one piece of vegetation to carry an invasive plant or the microscopic-sized veligers (larvae) of zebra mussels to the next lake.

“It’s all about personal responsibility,’’ said Smith.

Tom Cherveny

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

(320) 214-4335