Guest editorial: Must Minnesota accept the failure of the current AIS prevention program?

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The state of Minnesota has a well-earned reputation for possessing some of the most pristine lakes and rivers in the U.S. As each season progresses, we grow increasingly concerned as more rivers and lakes are contaminated with various aquatic invasive species (AIS).

A July 30, 2017, Star Tribune article ("Infested Waters — An Unyielding Grip") states that zebra mussels "have encroached on at least 275 lakes and rivers, and will infiltrate another 20 to 30 new ones each year."

That same article on July 30 called our own Hubbard County "a rare bright spot in Minnesota, with all of its lakes free of the Big Four invasive species in the state: zebra mussels, spiny waterfleas, starry stonewort (thick algae) and Eurasian watermilfoil."

Unfortunately, that is no longer true with the recent discovery of Eurasian watermilfoil in Hubbard County's Bad Axe Lake (Park Rapids Enterprise, Aug. 26, 2017), and the zebra mussel identification of Lake Benedict (adjacent to Leech Lake). Other recent declarations of contamination by invasive species of nearby Leech Lake, and even the state namesake Minnesota River, are ominous signs of failure of the current AIS prevention programs.

The DNR's AIS prevention program of public education and sporadic boat inspections is a lamentable failure that threatens all of the waters in Minnesota, the livelihood of the multi-billion dollar tourist industry, property values, and all those who enjoy our lakes and rivers.

Current inspection protocols do not cover enough access points or hours of the day to give any reasonable person faith that boats leaving infested waters will not carry AIS to other non-infested lakes.

The historic DNR mission to enhance access to waterways is at odds with managing contaminated lakes. Containing AIS while at the same time allowing access in and out of infested lakes is contradictory. The fact that the DNR is the same agency responsible for maintaining and increasing lake access and is also responsible for the AIS prevention program is an obvious conflict of interest. It is essential that these opposing programs be managed by separate, independent agencies to insure that a vigorous AIS prevention program is not hindered by the current passive responses to contaminated lakes.

We support the actions of Wright County to institute a proactive prevention and mandatory decontamination program for all boats in Wright County. (Wright County is still waiting for approval of that plan by the DNR.) While we applaud Wright County for their leadership. We believe it is far past time for the Governor and the Legislature to pass legislation to enact a comprehensive lake management program which, at a minimum, would include mandatory decontamination and tagging for watercraft leaving an infested waterway.

We believe if the Legislature would increase funding to support a significant increase in decontamination stations, AIS prevention would be enhanced.

Additionally, we encourage the Governor and Legislature to do the following:

• Move management of AIS infested waterways to an agency with appropriate staffing and funding to enact a comprehensive AIS containment program.

• Establish mandatory, thorough, and verifiable watercraft decontamination and drying programs for watercraft and water related equipment exiting any infested waterway.

• Curtail movement of watercraft and water equipment from infested waters to non-infested waters until an effective prevention and elimination of AIS is known.

• Support the University of Minnesota AIS Research Center with adequate funding and personnel to enable groundbreaking research to better target AIS prevention and control.

The time for action is now, not next month or next year. As we watch the almost daily reports of the inexorable spread of invasive species to more waterways in our beautiful state, and the ever increasing threat to the economy of the state, we stand ready to work with the Legislature, and with everyone who shares our concerns.

This commentary also represents the opinion of the Big Sand Lake Association Board of Directors.