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Common Currency: Public boat landings may see new restrictions

Alan Zemek

As I was reading here recently about the man from North Dakota who was just sentenced to 30 days in jail, (suspended) and fined $1,000 for illegally transporting zebra mussels from an infested lake to an un-infested lake in Becker County, a familiar expression came to mind: "Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it."

Unrestricted public access to Minnesota's lakes and streams is today so naturally taken for granted that it is completely ingrained into the DNA of sportsmen and recreational boaters from all over, both hither and 'yon.

But I have some bad news for you. The days when you could casually wander the byways and back roads of Minnesota, launching your boat freely at will from lake to lake at any public landing you please may be coming to an end.

Can you imagine the day when you are required to attach a GPS tracking device to your boat in order to renew your registration? So the DNR can keep track of where you and your boat have been? Or that all boats with out-of-state registrations are banned from Minnesota's public waters? Or that every public landing has a community service law enforcement officer on site to inspect your boat before and after you launch?

A little far fetched perhaps? Here's the thing about zebra mussels. They are an alien invasive species. That means they come from somewhere else. That means the only way they can get here is to be brought here as the result of a negligent or criminal act.

If bringing them here is a crime, even if unintentionally, then law enforcement will need certain powers to gather evidence and prosecute offenses. Keeping track of where you and your boat have been is one way to do it. This is serious stuff.

Do you think these measures too draconian? Would this be just another example of government over- reaching? Well, let's ask the property owners on any infested lake in Minnesota who have seen their property values plummet after their lake became infested. Or better yet, let's ask the property owners on all the un-infested lakes just how far the DNR should be allowed go to prevent the spread of zebra mussels?

Back in the early 1970s freedom of access to Minnesota's public waters was a big deal. Battles were waged between private lakeshore property owners wanting to keep transient boat traffic off "their" lake and the DNR, which in those days was forcing open public landings on "closed" lakes all over the state.

Since then, no one even questions the right of unrestricted access to public waters anymore. That is, until the zebra mussels show up.

Like many of the political controversies of our time, this issue has all the hallmarks of becoming an intensely emotional battle between the public interest and personal freedom in the next legislative session.

And for anyone thinking about running for office in the newly created 2B legislative district that includes the city of Park Rapids and parts of six counties, I have a few words of advice: First, a social conscience does not make you a socialist. Second, if you are planning on being elected, just be careful what you wish for.

Alan J. Zemek is a Park Rapids area developer and author of "Generation Busted: How America Went Broke in the Age of Prosperity." You can follow his blog, or comment on this article on his website, www.genera