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Aquatic Invasive Species legislative summit organizers release 2012 legislative priorities

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Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA), Pelican River Watershed District, and the Lake Detroiters Association today released their joint 2012 Aquatic Invasive Species Legislative Mandate. This agenda to the Legislature comes just as the session opens and is a result of all citizen and legislative input received at the Aquatic Invasive Species Legislative Summit 2012, held January 14. More than 350 Minnesota and North Dakota residents and 10 Minnesota state legislators attended the meeting held in Detroit Lakes.

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According to Becker County COLA president, Dick Hecock, "In the 12 months since our first Aquatic Invasive Species Legislative Summit, the situation beneath the surface has gotten worse in terms of additional infestations of Zebra Mussels and the spread of other invasives including Asian Carp and Spiny Waterfleas. The legislation signed by Gov. Dayton in May 2011 was a good start, but the reality is that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has committed less than one percent of its 2012 budget to this effort."

Hecock noted that the DNR's budget for AIS in 2012 is slightly more than $7 million statewide, out of its total $850 million budget. "While $7 million sounds like a lot, much of it is going for purchasing equipment and replenishing staff rosters. That's roughly $600 per lake but when you break out how much of the total AIS budget is actually being put to use on the front lines, it's about $30 per lake -- simply not enough to prevent long-term damage to our lakes."

Tera Guetter, administrator of the Pelican River Watershed District, focused on funding, "There are a variety of ways the Legislature can create long-term dedicated funding for the effort to protect public waters from invasive plants and animals." She continued, "The Legacy Amendment, passed by voters in 2008, stated that its purpose was 'to protect, enhance and restore our lakes and rivers'. I think the voting public would be shocked to know that none of this money has gone into protecting public waters from aquatic invasive plants and animals or restoration of already infested waters. Why? Some overseeing how Amendment spending is determined claim these activities don't qualify. Many citizens who voted for the Legacy Amendment strongly disagree."

Lake Detroiters Association board member, Barb Halbakken Fischburg pointed out the need for the Legislature to pass an increase in user fees. "There has been no increase in the watercraft license AIS surcharge since 1993. In a state with 800,000 registered boats, that is unacceptable. Other states fund their AIS program with a paid AIS watercraft decal. That could generate significant ongoing revenue for Minnesota's AIS efforts instead of the current free decal."

In releasing its 2012 Legislative priority list, the three groups are not advocating for the Legislature to give the DNR more money that vanishes into their general fund. In fact, the group is recommending that the Legislature create a citizen-oversight committee on DNR spending, just as exists for many other DNR divisions and departments within state governments. "The State of Minnesota is ten years late in getting into this war and as a result, we're facing an imminent crisis," Hecock noted. "We need legislation to close loopholes in the new law, create ongoing funding for AIS, and increase penalties for violations to levels equal to that for other natural resource violations."

Terry Kalil, Becker County COLA vice president, is monitoring the ongoing prosecution of two cases in Minnesota where individuals have been charged with illegally transporting zebra mussels from infested waters. "In the case of the individual charged with introducing zebra mussels into Rose Lake, just two miles from the Becker County line, the maximum penalty is $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail. Rose Lake sits near the top of the Otter Tail River chain of lakes. What this individual did puts 86 miles of river and many additional lakes at risk now for zebra mussels. A $1,000 fine is woefully inadequate for a violation that could forever alter the water and the recreational experiences on Rose Lake and potentially others."

The 2012 Aquatic Invasive Species Legislative agenda was presented to Senators John Carlson, Gretchen Hoffman and Keith Langseth along with Representatives Paul Anderson, Kent Eken, David Hancock, Morrie Lanning, Paul Marquart, Bud Nornes and Bruce Vogel. In their comments to the audience, all Legislators voiced their support for increasing funding for AIS. "This idea that we're not going to use Legacy money for AIS is wrong," Sen. John Carlson said. "If this isn't 'protect,' I don't know what is." Rep. Kent Eken noted that, "Legislators have the final say on where Legacy money goes."

The three Becker County groups will have their priority list carried forward in the legislature with the help of Minnesota Seasonal and Recreational Property Owners (MSRPO), an advocacy organization that earned high praise from Legislators attending the Summit. In referring the value of MSRPO, Sen. Carlson said, "If you care about your lakes, if you have a seasonal property or a recreational property and you don't belong to MSRPO, shame on you. These folks are golden to you."

Jeff Forester, executive director of MSRPO, commented that fighting AIS is not a partisan issue, but that it does take more. "The grassroots efforts of concerned people who take time to call or write a Legislator make a big impact on what gets done in St. Paul. Legislators respond to their constituents, but we can't assume those we elect already know what issues are important to us."

The Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations represents 3,000 property owners on 34 lakes throughout Becker County. The most current information can be found on the group's Facebook page or by contacting beckercola@gmail.com.

The Pelican River Watershed District was established in 1966 by community leaders to restore and maintain the health of waters located in the watershed. The watershed in located in Becker and Otter Tail Counties and covers roughly 160 square miles. More information can be found at www.prwd.org .

Minnesota Seasonal and Recreational Property Owners Association (MSRPO) represents thousands of individual lakeshore cabin and homeowners from across Minnesota at the state capitol on issues affecting water quality, shoreline regulations, habitat protection and shoreland over-development. More information is at www.msrpo.org .

Lake Detroiters Association represents property owners and businesses on Big and Little Detroit Lakes. Their website is www.lda-dl.com.

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