Zebra mussels war moves closer
Zebra mussels are heading our way and they're not exactly moving at a snail's pace.
The invasive mussels have been found in Pelican Lake in Otter Tail County and most recently in Rose Lake near Vergas.
That relentless march north prompted members of Hubbard County COLA to sound the alarm Wednesday, hoping to forge a partnership with county officials, other governmental agencies and citizens to formulate a battle plan before the invasion reaches any of the local destination lakes.
Thursday the DNR added the pesticide copper sulfate to the infested area of Rose Lake, where juvenile zebra mussels were found on a shoreline. Officials believe they were transported recently on a boat lift to Rose Lake.
And that's what has Hubbard County officials spooked. The Coalition of Lake Associations presentation indicated the county has many "at risk" lakes including Potato, Eagle, Big Mantrap, Big Sand, Fish Hook, Belle Taine and 11th Crow Wing.
While officials talked about an active monitoring program, as the impacts of Aquatic Invasive Species rise and are projected to heavily impact lake property values, more draconian measures are being contemplated to ensure clear waters.
A permanent decontamination station in Hubbard County, possibly at the South Transfer Station in Park Rapids, is one such option.
But ramping up inspections of boats at public accesses, checking livewells and minnow buckets, seems a certainty.
"Minnow buckets are a major source of contamination for zebra mussels," commissioner Lyle Robinson said.
And anglers are increasingly getting upset when told they cannot transport live minnows, and must drain livewells after leaving one lake for another, Robinson noted. They wonder why if they're staying within the same watershed.
"Free movement, unfettered access to lakes won't be the way forward," predicted COLA member Ken Grob.
Like a terminal and aggressive form of cancer, there's no full lake method of control or treatment for zebra mussels.
Commissioner Kathy Grell said it's imperative to form partnerships now so that if an outbreak is detected, the region can respond quickly.
Grob said a four-phase plan entails prevention through education, early detection, containment and the quick response.
But whether those prevention measures should include certifying dock installers and boat launch services to ensure they will not contribute to any lake or river contamination could be even more controversial.
The property value issue
Douglas County residents saw their lakeshore property values plummet when several lakes fell victim to zebra mussels.
COLA, which is a property owners association, doesn't want its identity confused with environmentalists, Grob said.
The goal is to protect the lakes, and the county's tax base, from an AIS infestation. County Assessor Bob Hansen has been presenting taxable market value information indicating Hubbard County's lake properties comprise 60 percent of the tax base.
COLA urges more lakes to conduct watercraft inspections similar to programs launched by Long, Potato and Big Mantrap lakes.
Pioneering a cure
Education is the key, said DNR invasive species specialist Nathan Olson.
Olson oversaw the application of the pesticide copper sulfate to the contaminated area of Rose Lake early Thursday morning.
"It went very well," he said. "We got everything in."
The juvenile population cannot breed yet, Olson said, so the problem, to use the cancer analogy, is in Stage 1.
Olson said one large obstacle to taming the zebra mussel invasion is lack of education.
"The individual who owned the boat lift was taking it out for the year," he said. "The guy who helps him take it out saw them and told the owner he should call the CO (conservation officer) because he had zebra mussels on it and the owner of the boat said not to worry about it because he wasn't going into any other lakes. He took off. That's when the other guy called our CO to let him know."
It challenges Olson to hear of stories like this.
"We need to let people know it's not just boats carrying the stuff, but any sort of water equipment that people may use," he said.
"We've always thought it would be nice to put something on when you have boater education courses or when you renew your boating registration," Olson said.
"We do have in statute now for everybody who has a boat, they will have to have an invasive species sticker which has the laws on it and it's a free sticker and they'll have three years to get that in place," Olson said of the tightening regulatory noose.
"That way we can't have people say, 'I didn't know.' That's as close to a certification we can get for all boaters now."
The future of the AIS war
But commercial certification is coming.
"We do have a training program for all the lake service providers, the ones that do dock and lift installation for a job," he said. "Now they have to go through training by us (the DNR) and get a permit by us to operate their business.
"We haven't fully enacted it yet," he added. "We have to get some infrastructure in place I the office during the off-season before we can start collecting fees for that permit. But we've been doing the training for a couple years now."
The difficulty comes when you're dealing with private owners and installers, he said. That's where education is paramount.
The Hubbard County board asked COLA representatives to come forward with some ideas over the winter so that an active group effort can launch in the spring.
Grell said Legacy funds could be available to help mount a campaign.
Meanwhile, Olson is hopeful the topical application, the first of three treatments, will work in Rose Lake.
"These buggers, they're kind of hard to kill," he said. "You have to keep the concentration high in the area of treatment so that's why we're going with three consecutive treatments."