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Hubbard County sees slight decrease in AIS violations

A preliminary summary of 2016 countywide watercraft inspections indicates boaters are better educated about how to protect Minnesota's lakes from aquatic invasive species.

Bill DonCarlos, Hubbard County AIS Program Coordinator, shared the report Oct. 27 at the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations board meeting.

DonCarlos said he had 90 to 95 percent of all inspection data from the state.

"Unfortunately, I don't have the full picture tonight," he said, adding the final summary should be available in mid-November.

In 2016, certified AIS inspectors worked on 35 lakes in Hubbard County. From May 13 through Oct. 16, they completed 22,919 inspections—about 1,860 more than last year.

"We had 147 boats this year pull up to lake accesses with their drain plug already in. Of course, if you ask me, that number is still too high, but it is down from last year, which is good," DonCarlos said.

Boats with plants, mud or water on arrival was also down—from 339 to 268.

The number of boats arriving from an infested waterbody was "slightly higher" than last year.

"That is to be expected, and I predict that we'll see that number continue to rise every year as more and more lakes are listed as infested," said DonCarlos.

The number of out-of-state boaters was similar to last year: 14.75 percent compared to 14.30 percent in 2015.

Decontaminations totaled 116, a decrease from last year's 130.

"I'd like to see that number increase, but I'm very happy to see 116," he said. More than half of the "decons" were coming from infested waters.

"I think we can look at that as both a positive and a negative," DonCarlos said. It's good that people are aware that decontaminations are necessary after visiting infested waters, like Lake Winnibigoshish or Cass Lake, he noted. Some lakes, however, may harbor AIS for several years before the either the public or DNR is aware of it.

"I would like to see people take the same steps, the same procedures regardless where they've previously been," he said.

The decrease in violations shows the success of the AIS program in Hubbard County and statewide, DonCarlos said.

"Boaters are more and more aware of the rules, and we're seeing less and less violations. That's a good thing. That shows boaters are becoming more educated," he said.

AIS goals for Hubbard County

DonCarlos stated several program goals for 2017, such as expanding educational materials and public outreach, improving communication between stakeholders (anglers, resorts, lake associations, etc.) and increasing the quality of inspections.

Hubbard County's 42 to 45 inspectors worked 15,384 hours during the 2016 season.

DonCarlos hopes to increase inspector's wages in order to be competitive and attract quality workers. Starting wages have been the same in Hubbard County for three years, he noted. Wages are also low compared to neighboring counties.

Anticipated cuts to the county's state allocation will result in fewer inspection hours. The 2017 AIS allocation is expected to be $150,984, which translates into 8,170 state-funded inspection hours.

"That is a cut from what we've had in the past," DonCarlos said. "Last year, we were at approximately 9,600 hours."

2016 has been a year of transition "logistically," he explained, as the AIS workload shifted from the Hubbard County Soil and Water District to the county's Environmental Services. 2017 will be a year of transition "financially."

Hubbard County is "very supportive" of AIS prevention, contributing $35,000 in levy dollars, he noted.

Hubbard County is paving the way, setting a good example for other counties, agreed Nicole Kovar, Minnesota DNR invasive species specialist.

In June, the county's AIS program set aside $30,000 in "rapid response funds" for AIS treatment in case of an emergency.

"It's going to become very important that counties can have funds set aside to address these potential infestations," Kovar said. "Other counties aren't yet doing this."

She attended the board meeting to share the DNR's treatment response to a starry stonewart infestation on Big Turtle Lake, near Bemidji. Suction harvesting to remove a .75-acre, dense mat cost $42,000, she noted.