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Aquatic invasive species target of COLA project

In a first-of-its-kind project in the state, Hubbard County COLA partnered with a township, Lake Emma, to sponsor a watercraft inspection intern last summer - aquatic invasive species the target.

Now the Coalition of Lake Associations is hoping to expand the pioneer project, come summer.

"We are hoping the Lake Emma Township model will carry through to other lakes and townships in the county," said Ken Grob, who chairs COLA's AIS task force. "Townships have a vested interest in lakeshore quality."

The aggressive, non-native organisms are considered to be a direct threat to the diversity and abundance of native aquatic species, and to the ecological stability of Minnesota lakes.

In the summer of 2008, Hubbard County had an intern whose role was to inspect watercraft, working through the DNR's Ecological Resources Division, Grob explained.

But plans called for scaling back funding, cutting hours, come 2009, Grob said.

COLA decided to submit an application for a dedicated intern, "and involve local township government in supporting protection of water bodies," Grob said.

He and COLA president Dan Kittilson approached Lake Emma Township to ask for financial support for the intern (500 hours at $12 per hour).

All tolled, about 15 major lakes sit within or part of the township.

The property value in Lake Emma Township is greater than the combined property value of the county's four cities, Grob pointed out.

The proposal was warmly received.

"We thought it was a wonderful idea," Lake Emma Township chair Rod Westrum said of the proposal, presented at the annual meeting last March.

Lake Emma Township provided $1,000 and Zorbaz Restaurant and lake associations within the township supplied the remaining amount for the $3,000 grant match.

Lakes participating, which included nine launch sites, were Big Sand, Little Sand, Emma, Potato (two sites), Ojibway, Blue, Upper Bottle and Pickerel. Mantrap Lake (a bay is within township perimeters) was also included.

The inspection process consisted of a six-question survey to measure boaters' awareness of the issues surrounding AIS and an inspection of the watercraft.

At summer's end, 527 watercraft inspections had been conducted with 21 cases of vegetation intercepted, one possibly believed to be Eurasian water milfoil. All boaters were asked to remove the vegetation.

Thirty-seven inspections revealed the watercraft came from an infested water body, 12 of which were infested with zebra mussels. Thirteen percent (71) of the watercraft came from other states; 60 of these were from states known to have zebra mussels present.

Nearly two-thirds of the boaters said they had not participated in a previous inspection, but, with few exceptions, they were receptive to the survey and examination.

Hubbard County COLA's proactive approach to deterring the proliferation of AIS will continue next summer.

The project is expected to expand, Grob said, with lake associations sponsoring interns through AIS prevention grants. Long Lake has submitted an application for an intern, Mantrap is applying for three and it may be under consideration by the Crow Wing chain, Grob said.