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Preventing the spread of AIS infestations

The Park Rapids and Hubbard County community 2017 Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Prevention Event was held Monday night at Riverside United Methodist Church in Park Rapids.

Aquatic Invasive Species Specialist Nicole Kovar, with the northwest region of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, discussed new challenges the region is facing with AIS and how various lake associations and individuals can help with prevention.

According to Kovar, there are several infestations in close proximity to Hubbard County.

To the east of the county, Zebra Mussel Veligers were discovered in Leech Lake as well as to our west in Detroit Lakes. Both Red and Big Turtle Lake to the north of Hubbard County have infestations of Starry Stonewort as well as Lake Koronis to the south. Eurasian Watermilfoil, Curly-leaf Pondweed, Mystery Snails and Rusty Crawfish have also been discovered in area lakes.

"We're kind of surrounded here," she said.

According to Kovar, there are still a lot of unknowns with Starry Stonewort, which was first discovered in Minnesota in 2015.

The grass-like form of algae is native to Europe and Asia and has spread to 250 acres of Lake Koronis in Paynesville.

"Catching it early is so extremely important, as far as management of it," Kovar stressed, adding early detection is crucial. "You can't manage 250 acres of Starry Stonewort, but you might be able to get a handle on one acre."

She added that if an individual is suspicious at all of anything they may find in the lakes to get it to a professional as quickly as possible to prevent an AIS from spreading further

"You can transport a sample if you are getting it identified," she explained. "The law says you can't transport anything, but if it's to get it to someone for identification purposes, please do."

She also said it is helpful if pictures and location information are included in samples that are dropped off in a closed container.

Hubbard County AIS Program Coordinator Bill DonCarlos works out of the Environmental Services Office at the Hubbard County Government Center. He explained that his job is to educate the community on Aquatic Invasive Species by working with local resorts, bait shops, lake associations and other lake shore property owners.

"The biggest part of my job description is managing our watercraft inspection program," DonCarlos said.

Hubbard County has 40 seasonal watercraft inspectors who work from May until the end of October.

All of the inspectors are trained by the DNR at two levels. Level I inspectors are trained to inspect boats at public accesses and they are also allowed to deny a boat being launched that is within an AIS violation and can't be cleaned at the access. Level II inspectors are trained to inspect and they are authorized to decontaminate boats.

"We're not always out there looking for a big clump of stonewort or a big group cluster of zebra mussels," DonCarlos explained, saying an infestation isn't always obvious. "Oftentimes we're looking for small plant fragments. We're looking for mud on boats and trailers and we're also looking for water."

Typically, inspectors will check the bottom of boats, the trailer, the boat motor, trolling motors, the anchor and anchor line, the livewells and baitwells.

Hubbard County has a decontamination station located next to the south transfer station in Park Rapids.

According to DonCarlos, there are three main parts to a watercraft decontamination - an interior hot water flush, an exterior hot water/high pressure rinse and the physical removal of attached species.

He said that it is advised to use the decontamination station when going to a new waterbody, after an extended period of time on the water and definitely after being in an infested lake.

"I truly feel that our local economy depends on our clean lakes and rivers in northern Minnesota. They are very important to us financially and it's part of our culture, it's part of our way of life," DonCarlos said. "I truly believe that we owe it to our future generations to preserve it so that our kids and our grandkids and their kids can enjoy the same resources that we've all gotten to enjoy. We should all be doing our part to slow the spread."

Jeff Forester, from the Minnesota Lakes and Rivers (MLR) Advocacy Association, presented information on the statewide challenge facing AIS as well as legislation and policy at the Capital and the need for a "grassroots movement."

"If we're going to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species in the state of Minnesota, we're going to do it," Forester said. Local individuals have to be engaged to do the work or there will be no progress, he added. "It's not going to be the government that's going to swoop in and save us."

According to Forester, the goals of the MLR is to increase the effectiveness of lake advocacy efforts at the local level.

There are over 500 lake associations in Minnesota as well as many other local water related civic infrastructures in the state and they have never been connected to work together.

"I think that by bringing these different organizations, these different entities and groups of people together that all have a separate role to play and different jurisdictions we're going to make a great deal of progress," Forester said.

Forester explained it is critically important that when an initiative comes up in legislature they can put a face to it. He advised that no individual should become bogged down with the intricacies of legislative business. But, that an organization like MLR, with a lobbyist in place, can cue people as to when it's time to act.

"Politics is the work of the citizen," Forester said. "It's more than voting, it's working with other people in your jurisdiction to benefit the public."

According to Forester, civic leaders, citizens who take on the role of leaders for the common good make all the difference.

He encourages individuals to work together, both locally and at a statewide level to make change by advocating for water quality at the legislature.

Dan Kittilson, representing the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA), discussed the economics of AIS infestation.

In Hubbard County, 60 percent of the tax revenue comes from lake property assessments. If lake property values decreased due to an AIS infestation, it would affect more than just the local water quality.

"We need to maintain this great fishing and economic value of our public waters. If we're going to keep that we have got to stop the spread of AIS," Kittilson said, stating over $2.4 billion is spent on angling each year in the state of Minnesota.

According to Kittilson, tourism in Minnesota accounted for $14.4 billion in gross sales, recreation and tourism is a critical component to Minnesota's economy.

As an example of the economic impact AIS can have, Kittilson said that after an infestation of Zebra Mussels on Mille Lacs Lake, $31 million in property tax value was lost in one county.

"Our lake property drives the majority of our tax base," he said. "Lake shore is an individual property but our lakes are a shared resource, every one of us is responsible for protecting Minnesota's water legacy."

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