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Fighting invasive species in Crow Wing County

Senior Reporter

Fighting the battle against invasive aquatic species in a lake-rich region isn’t foolproof but did catch two boats with zebra mussels.

On Memorial Day weekend, a zebra mussel was found in a boat livewell before it launched into Lake Hubert. Another zebra mussel was found stuck to live plants in a boat going into Bay Lake. Zebra mussels clog motors, attach to docks and have the potential to make swimming or wading inhospitable as sharp shells slice swimmer’s feet or hands. There is no proven way to rid the water of the prolific mussels, which have no natural predator here.

This year was the third where Crow Wing County participated in inspection programs and the first year it was implemented countywide. Crow Wing County worked with both the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and lake associations in facilitating watercraft inspections at public boat launches.

Inspectors were paid $14.40 an hour. Expenses were paid by a split with 70 percent to the DNR and 30 percent to lake associations for a program cost of $11,130 in the county. Ten lake associations participated. Inspectors worked at public accesses on 17 lakes.

Participating associations included: Whitefish Area Property Owners Association and associations on Lake Hubert, Kimble Lake, Lower and Upper South Long lakes, East/West Fox Lake, Mitchell Lake, Kego Lake, Eagle Lake, North Long Lake, Horseshoe Lake and Bass Lake.

About 4,000 boat inspections were completed in the county. In a report Monday, Crow Wing County commissioners Rachel Reabe Nystrom, Paul Koering, Paul Thiede and Rosemary Franzen, heard DNR grants funding the program were cut from $7,750 to $5,000 for 2014. Administrative costs for the county next year are expected to range between $10,000 and $12,000. The reduced funding from the DNR would leave a higher amount that may mean lake associations would see an increased participation cost.

Mitch Brinks, water protection specialist, created a tier system for 2014 with costs based on inspection hours. Tier three has more than 500 hours with two or more inspectors per association for the entire summer season. Cost would be $1,250. Tier two covers 250 to 500 hours from May to Labor Day for $500. Tier one provides inspectors for less than 250 hours from May to Labor Day for a cost of $250.

Thiede asked staff to put together an information sheet, which lake associations may find informative and helpful in lobbying the DNR to fully fund the program. Commissioners were told the Initiative Foundation was also looking at options to fight invasive species on a statewide basis. Thiede reiterated protecting the lakes from invasive species should be a DNR responsibility. County staff noted data collected at the local level is sent to the DNR but hasn’t been available in a two-way flow of information. Brinks said while the program puts a strain on other duties he felt comfortable going into the 2014 program but said it may not be manageable in the following year. Koering said he was concerned as the county takes on more duties, the department will come forward asking to add an employee.

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