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Commentary: State must act to stop spread of AIS

Jeff Forester , Executive Director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates. Sarah Smith / Enterprise

BY jeff forester



Governor Dayton included $7.5 million in the next biennium for AIS from the General Fund. The previous funding was about $8 million in one-time funds, mostly from the LCCMR account, which is money raised from the Minnesota lottery, so this represents a funding cut in the next biennium of half a million dollars, but also signals a more permanent commitment. While MLR is encouraged to see this commitment there is some concern that in the legislative give and take this $7.5 general fund could be reduced or allocated elsewhere. A stable funding source is still our goal.

Following the release of the February economic forecast, legislation should begin to move rather quickly. At that time MN Lakes & Rivers Advocates, MLR, will start getting out Citizen Action Alerts, C.A.N., encouraging people to write their legislators on behalf of specific legislation.

MLR has used this relative lull to meet with some of the more than 60 new legislators and get them up to speed on our issues. Early in January MLR Executive Director Jeff Forester attended the DNR Round Table and then the first AIS Advisory Committee meeting in Saint Cloud. One of the general themes that emerged from these meetings is the idea of increased local involvement in AIS control, both from a financial and an on the ground implementation perspective. There was a lot of discussion regarding the use of Lake Improvement Districts to fund local AIS work.

MLR believes this is not a direction that will lead to success.

For the last few years, LGU's, Counties, Lake Associations and COLAs have been on the front line of AIS. They have borne a lion's share of the expense and heroically organized volunteers. This is, at best, a laudable stop gap while the larger and more cumbersome machinery of the DNR works to put a comprehensive statewide plan in place. It seems certain that such a comprehensive plan will rely on local involvement but cannot be a complete solution.

Aquatic Invasive Species infest watersheds, and watersheds cross bureaucratic boundaries.

An effective Comprehensive Plan to control AIS cannot be built from the ground up. It must be built from the top down with key roles, guidelines and funding for LGUs and local associations built into the system.

A terribly sad example of these realities is the recent listing of Lake Winnibigosh, which sits squarely on the Upper Mississippi River watershed. All of the connected waters downstream are likely to become over run with time.

This is a tragedy for all who love Minnesota's lakes and rivers. As a MN Lakes & Rivers Advocates board member wrote to me following the listing of Winnie yesterday:

"Lake Winni has the biggest walleye run (egg take) in the state, hundreds of smaller lakes depend on it as a source of walleye fry and fingerlings. Winni is also one of the lakes in the "put-back-fry" study, an investment of several $100,000 by DNR. The lake is also a premier destination for walleye anglers and guides.

"The impacts that zebra mussel infestation of MN lakes are having (Mille Lacs), and will have, include far-reaching destructive impacts to Fisheries in terms of walleye rearing and stocking programs on which DNR Fisheries depends. Further, on which our angling economy depends. One impact is that our Fisheries programs will require more manpower and funding to operate a stocking program to avoid spreading AIS to receiving non-infested lakes, that is, if sustainable walleye populations can even continue to survive in infested lakes such as Winni."

We have run out of time. The Minnesota Legislature must act this session to stop this spread. We will all be playing a very important role in keeping AIS at the fore of the Legislative agenda in Saint Paul. In the coming weeks we will be sending C.A.N. emails to you - please make sure that you forward them to your association members, encourage them to sign up with MLR's C.A.N. system so that our database can over-lay each individual's legislative district so that they can communicate directly with their specific legislators with "one click" functionality.