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AIS update: Entities working together

After an informational meeting about what's being done regarding aquatic invasive species in Becker County, citizens left hoping governmental entities would bind together to continue the fight.

Representatives from various groups working to fight AIS updated the public Tuesday evening about how the last year or so has been spent combating flowering rush and zebra mussels.

AIS infestations are up 235 percent since 2009 Lake Detroiters President, Dick Hecock said, and it's important to focus on a realistic future with these "beasts."

Not only is infestation up, but so are violations and citations.

In 2010, the DNR gave out 160 citations for boating violations related to AIS. After law changes in 2011 though, those numbers jumped to 487 citations, and so far in 2012, there have been 816 citations. Nathan Olson with the DNR's invasive species program said that in 2012, there have already been thousands of inspections done.

Olson said that the two incidents specifically on Rose Lake and Lake Irene (Douglas County), with zebra mussel infestations have been treated with copper sulfate, and other precautions like testing docks and doing a dive next week are being used to make sure the isolated incidents haven't spread throughout the lakes.

He said it won't be until next year, though, that the DNR will know for sure that zebra mussels didn't spread in the two lakes.

Hecock said it's because of the local commitment that there has been some success in the fight against AIS spread.

"I think we need a new approach, though," he said. "We can't only rely on a hit or miss volunteer inspection."

Moriya Rufer, who is serving as the Becker County invasive species coordinator, said there were 90 area volunteers who went through the DNR's training to check boats at lake accesses this summer. Floyd Lake and Detroit Lake were the most successful in getting volunteers to regularly man the accesses.

For the most part, the encounters with boaters were an educational and positive one, but there were some instances with not-so-nice interactions, and the volunteers are powerless with it comes to the ability to enforce any laws.

During their time at the accesses, surveys were taken of those using the lakes, and that data is being compiled and will be ready at the end of September.

Rufer is also putting together an AIS booklet that will be handed out to resorts and other businesses that could benefit from the ins and outs of AIS prevention.

Hecock said protecting lakes can't just be a city or a lake effort, but rather the entire county, if not outside the county boarders as well.

Steve Hersh, director of the DNR's ecological resources management team, said the DNR performed a couple traffic check stations this summer. There were a few "hiccups" in the beginning to overcome concerning legalities, but the DNR purposely started small and will be holding more of the random checks throughout the state.

Several ideas were thrown out during the meeting, suggestions as to how to limit lake usage and the spread of AIS -- from coded entries to lake accesses to higher fines and punishments for violations.

Someone suggested that public officials be trained in as volunteers at the lake accesses to not only have the knowledge but to also see what it's like to be out there talking to boaters and see some of the problems the volunteers are facing.

Olson said the DNR would like to get decontaminating units for lakes but the expense is too high. A few million dollars though, several people said, is nothing compared to what these invasives are doing to the lakes.

"Pay now or pay later," Hecock said.

Pelican River Watershed District Administrator Tera Guetter said about $500,000 has already been spent just studying and testing flowering rush.

Different chemicals have been used to eradicate the flowering rush problem, and while it's still in the test stages, she said one chemical seems to be working better than others and costs much less than some. Not to say it will be cheap to treat the lakes, though.

"We are definitely still in the research mode. I want to stress that," she reiterated.

Though no future plans were set at the informational meeting, multiple representatives from multiple entities -- townships, city, county and state -- agreed they need to work together for the greater good of the state and its lakes.