COLA COLUMN: Focus your eyes on invasive Starry Stonewort

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This time of year, as some aquatic vegetation recedes with daylight changes, an invasive algae called Starry Stonewort can stand out as it has a much longer growing season.

Last Saturday, the annual Starry Trek engaged more than 200 volunteers checking public accesses across the state looking for Starry Stonewort. The event was spearheaded by the University of Minnesota Extension, Minnesota AIS Research Center and DNR.

Ten public accesses were checked in northern Hubbard County by five COLA members. But there are many more public accesses in our county that can use our eyes on the water — that's where you come in!

Starry Stonewort can form dense mats that make boating, fishing and swimming difficult, as experienced on Lake Kronis near Paynesville when discovered in 2015. It's named for the small, white, star-shaped bulbils on the base of some that distinguish it from other look-alike native algae.

Early detection is critical to prevent the spread. In 2017, a group of Starry Trek volunteers found an early infestation in Grand Lake in Stearns County, which led to the lake association and DNR rapidly mobilizing to hand-pull the infestation. Initial results from this early intervention are very promising. Undetected, it can spread to acres in a lake — as is the case with Medicine Lake in Hennepin County where 14 acres near a public access in the 924-acre lake were discovered to be infested.

By focusing our eyes on the water looking for invasive Starry Stonewort, we are each engaging in helping protect our healthy lakes so important for our local economy and recreational enjoyment. Check around the fishing pier, dock and boat launch at your favorite public access and even peer under lily pads as you troll by trying to catch that elusive walleye. It will be a brighter green than other vegetation, especially noticeable if you have your polarized sunglasses on reducing glare and improving your visibility into the water.

Starry Stonewort (Nitellopsis obtuse) is grass-like in appearance, with smooth, thin stems. It has branchlets that are in whorls of 5 to 8 and forked tips are uneven in length. Small star-shaped bulbils may be observed above or below the sediment surface on clear threads at the base of the plant.

If you suspect starry stonewort or other invasive plants or animals, note the exact location, take a photo and contact the DNR AIS Specialist for our region, Nicole Kovar, at 218-732-8960.

Other Minnesota lakes with starry stonewort include Mud and Rice lakes in Stearns County; Cass, Moose, Turtle and Upper Red lakes in Beltrami County; Lake Minnewaska in Pope County; Pleasant Lake and West Lake Sylvia in Wright County; and Lake Winnibigoshish in Cass and Itasca counties.

Boaters can help stop the spread of invasive species by cleaning and draining their boats, trailers and gear and calling ahead for a free decontamination appointment here in Hubbard County, available seven days a week on-call 218-252-6738. The convenient Hubbard County decontamination station is located at 812 Henrietta Ave S., Park Rapids. It is right by "the "dump." It is easy to "clean in and clean out," as I just experienced when we called ahead for our decon appointment for our kayaks before and after a trip on the Crow Wing River this week.