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Call to action against Aquatic Invasive Species

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

Aquatic Invasive Species doesn't wear a red or blue label or go by the monikers Democrat and Republican.

Fighting for clean lakes is issue politics, not partisan politics, said Minnesota's premier lakes lobbyist Thursday night.

Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and River Advocates, attended Thursday's regular meeting of Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations to rally the troops and support for the upcoming 2013 Legislative session.

AIS "will have an enormous financial impact on the state," Forester told the COLA members.

He is pushing the state to have a long-term, dedicated source of funding to fight the spread of AIS. Once something like zebra mussels invades a recreational lake, the property becomes worthless and homeowners can't sell.

The newly revamped and re-named non-profit also wants to focus on the taxing of lakeshore properties, Forester said.

"The over-taxation of shoreland where you're driving development" and subdividing of lake property is bad policy, Forester maintained.

But Forester said he's hopeful the tide is turning at the state legislature. The state needs money for a statewide early detection system, a state agency that can mount a rapid response and a statewide program to deal with the after effects, Forester believes.

Lake properties are too important and too much a source of the state's tax base to ignore, he said.

"Money spent now is better than money we try to spend later."

The fight against AIS really ramped up in 2010. Lottery proceeds were dedicated for a two-year period for issues such as decontamination and education. Those funds run out this year, Forester said.

And the state's Legacy fund needs to be tapped to help fund a long-term solution, he said.

"Almost none (of the fund) has gone to the lakes," he said. It's probably "a result of the fact we're not well organized; we're not down there."

He encouraged COLA members to contact their state legislators, to put pressure on them, and to try to monitor pending bills.

But he also noted a scattershot approach leaves too much responsibility for local groups such as lake associations and watershed districts when lake and river health are statewide problems.

"All of these groups are like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike," Forester said. "Local people are outspending the state in protecting state resources. It's heroic but they can't keep on forever."

And although legislation to tighten the grip on the AIS invasion accelerates each legislative session, there needs to be incentives to benefit the public for its stewardship and for restoring waterfronts, Forester maintains.

COLA member Chuck Diessner urged the assembled guests that they need to shed the mindset that "I'm not going to make a difference.

"You get five to 10 e-mails to a representative or senator, it makes a huge difference," he said.

Several COLA members asked about the trend toward closing off contaminated lakes to the public, or limiting access to endangered lakes.

"It's politically infeasible," Forester told COLA member Helen Marsh.

Transporting a microscopic contaminant in the ballast of a boat is impossible to detect, much less curtail, Forester said.

But he agreed that contaminated lakes are becoming a "hot button issue," and a NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) mentality is popping up with lakeshore owners desperate to protect their investment.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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