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Battlefield over zebra mussels moves to Vergas

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"This is a battlefield. How can we fight if the DNR isn't telling us we're at war?" - Frazee Mayor Hank Ludtke

The Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations today advised all area boaters to be aware that nearby Rose Lake in Otter Tail County is now infested with zebra mussels.

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The lake, near Vergas, is part of the Otter Tail River chain of lakes which flows downstream to Long Lake, Big and Little Pine Lakes and many other Otter Tail County lakes as it makes its way toward Otter Tail Lake.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which has not made any public announcement about the discovery in mid-September, Rose Lake was likely infested with zebra mussels when a boat lift was moved from a campground on Lake Lizzie to a property on Rose Lake.

The DNR has not yet identified either the property owners or if a lake service provider was involved in the transfer. The DNR has also not indicated whether those involved are being cited for violating the various aquatic invasive species laws.

Lake Lizzie, along with Pelican, Crystal, Fish, Little Pelican, Prairie and Bass Lakes -- all in Otter Tail County -- are all on the DNR Infested Waters List as published on May 2.

The 2011 Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Law specifically states that all docks, lifts and other water-related equipment removed from infested waters can only be returned to those same infested waters.

The law also prohibits transportation of any aquatic invasive species. The 2011 Minnesota legislature refused to increase fines beyond the $250 already in place for transporting aquatic invasive species.

"This is a battlefield. How can we fight if the DNR isn't telling us we're at war," said Frazee Mayor Hank Ludtke. He expressed his frustration with the DNR. "I'm disheartened that zebra mussels have invaded the Ottertail River. We need a moratorium on these infested waters to prevent exactly this sort of thing from happening. This latest find means that 87 miles of the river downstream to the confluence with the Pelican River now are infested."

"One boat lift. One female zebra mussel. One person. That's all it takes to contaminate a 1,200-acre lake like pristine Rose Lake. That single female zebra mussel is capable of releasing one million juveniles in a single season, ruining a lake forever," explained Terry Kalil, vice president of Becker County COLA.

"This is a perfect example of why the DNR must get much more aggressive about containment of invasive species in infested waters. It also makes the case for harsher penalties for failure to comply with the laws. What is the true cost to current and future generations of a lake infested with zebra mussels? How much do we as a society value fishing, swimming or a walk on the beach? What's the economic impact of infested waters on property values and businesses dependent on tourism statewide? We simply can not afford to wait until that day arrives before we acknowledge our duty to protect Minnesota's public waters so that future generations can enjoy those same treasured moments."

Tera Guetter, administrator of the Pelican River Watershed District, explained the risk to lakes downstream: "Just as we've seen with the Pelican River, lakes downstream of Pelican Lake have now become infested with zebra mussels. When one lake is contaminated, all others downstream are at risk. There is no known method of removing zebra mussels from a lake or river."

Guetter also urged property owners, boaters and others to talk with authorized lake service providers before moving any water-related equipment -- including docks, lifts, pontoons, boats, trailers, live wells, personal watercraft or even bait buckets -- between lakes.

"All lake service providers are now required to attend DNR training and obtain permits before providing services. This training helps ensure that when a piece of equipment is being transferred between lakes, it is properly inspected and decontaminated to prevent the spread of invasive species," she said.

According to a DNR statement issued May 26, lake service providers must obtain a permit from the DNR before providing any services and must have a valid permit in possession while providing services.

They must complete aquatic invasive species training and pass an examination in order to qualify for a permit. Permits are valid for three years. In addition, persons working for a services provider with a permit are also required to attend aquatic invasive species training.

Additional information on aquatic invasive species transportation permits for both watercraft owners and lake service providers can be found at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/permits/invasive_species/index.html.

Guetter urges residents and visitors to Becker County to enact decontamination and other preventative measures now. She recommends several websites where information on AIS, infested waters, preventive measures and legislation can be obtained:

Pelican River Watershed District prwd.org

Minnesota DNR dnr.state.mn.us

100th Meridian Initiative (US Fish & Wildlife) 100thmeridian.org

Becker County co.becker.mn.us

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.

The Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations represents 3,000 property owners on 34 lakes throughout Becker County.

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