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Commentary: A teachable moment for our lakes

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

BY Jeff forester

Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates

Election year means a deluge of commercials, robo calls, mail, e-mails and campaign literature on your door knob.

In Minnesota the 2010 census triggered a redrawing of the state's district lines throwing every House and Senate seat up for re-election and increasing the intensity of election fever. But redistricting also created an once-in-a-decade opportunity.

This is what they call a teachable moment.

For the last two years lakes groups, local government units, businesses and fishing groups have worked at the local level to monitor boat landings and educate the public about the dangers of Aquatic Invasive Species. At the state level, Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates worked with a coalition of Counties, the DNR, and environmental organizations to push legislation to halt the spread of AIS. The legislature responded by passing a Pull the Plug Law, increasing authority for DNR, mandatory training for lake service providers, and increasing penalties for scofflaws.

In 2010 the legislature roughly doubled the funding for AIS work with a two-year appropriation of one time money from the LCCMR or Lottery proceeds account.

Even with this influx of one-time funds, much of the heavy lifting and expense has fallen to locals. Lake Association and COLA members have contributed tens of thousands of hours in volunteer time staffing boat landings and hundreds of thousands of out of pocket dollars on decontamination units, hiring trained boat inspectors, educational materials and lake treatments.

These people are like the Dutch Boy with his finger in the dike. For two years, while state efforts ramped up, these thousands of volunteers have heroically slowed the spread, but the cracks are widening. It is time for the state to step up.

So, as you see candidates on the campaign trail, use this unique teachable moment to ask them:

n Are you prepared to create an adequate, fair, ongoing and reliable revenue stream for AIS work?

n Would you support and fund modern, technology-based tools for DNR enforcement?

n Would you support state/local partnerships, providing funds and authority to help locals with on the ground efforts?

Without a reliable and ongoing source of funding for Aquatic Invasive Species work, Minnesota has no chance of success. There are a number of proposals on the table, including a model based on Wyoming's AIS Program. In Wyoming, all boats, including out-of-state boats, must take an AIS test and buy a small AIS sticker that is displayed on the boat. Revenue from the sticker goes to AIS efforts.

Locals are at red line and cannot continue to be the main stop-gap between our waters and zebra mussels, milfoil, spiny water fleas and the many other AIS that have yet to appear.

In this unique teachable moment, ask candidates if they are willing to step up and support these heroic local efforts. The waters are a public resource, and deserve a public investment to protect them.

Jeff Forester is Executive Director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates and a writer. His book "Forest for the Trees: How Humans Shaped the North Woods" was a finalist in the Minnesota Book Awards and winner of the Choice Critics Award. Jeff lives with his wife and two daughters in Uptown, and they spend as much time as they can in the north woods, camping, fishing hunting and enjoying the lakes.