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Fish houses must be removed by March 16, trash should, too

Anglers with ice shelters remaining on lakes north of highways 10, 34 and 200 must remove their structures before March 16, 2009. The date marks a turning point in the ice fishing season; one where backs and brawn, chainsaws and chisels get a workout.

This year was especially difficult to pry a stationary shelter free from the ice and snow due to excess snow, rain and flooding, especially for anglers failing to raise their structure with wood shims to avoid a wet and subsequently frozen floor.

According to Minnesota DNR regulations, if houses or shelters are not removed, owners will be prosecuted and the structure may be confiscated and removed or destroyed by a conservation officer. Contents of the structure may be seized and held for 60 days; if not claimed by the owner within that time, they become property of the State of Minnesota.

The boundary marking the second region of lakes requiring upcoming ice house removal is an east-west line formed by U.S. Highway 10, east along Highway 34 to Minnesota Highway 200, east along Highway 200 to U.S. Highway 2, and east along Highway 2 to the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. Fish houses south of these roadways were required to be off the lakes March 2, so in other words, it's time to get your shelter off the lake no matter where you live in the state. The DNR warns anglers that storing or leaving fish houses or dark houses on a public access is prohibited.

Yet owners must remember to not only remove their fish house, but the trash too. Imagine all the short blocks of wood that could be floating around our lakes if anglers neglected to extract the shims used to jack up their structure. Even though the blocks are probably frozen into the ice, they won't be for long. Yes, some chiseling and a good 'ol fashioned work ethic may be required to free those chunks of wood, but the lower unit of a boater's engine won't be happy to hit one while cruising across the water in May.

Yet it's not the wood blocks that impact recreational boaters, natural habit and beauty of the lake environment, it's the candy wrappers, cans, minnow bags and all the other trash left blowing in the wind that is detrimental to our lakes.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has done some research pertaining to the lifespan of trash. According to MNDOT's Web site, the time it takes for an aluminum can to decompose is 200-500 years. A plastic bag requires 10-20 years for decomposition and a cigarette butt will be around for 1-5 years. And don't forget that littering is a misdemeanor for the offending party if convicted, with fines up to $1,000.

So here's my challenge to the diligent anglers who care about the future of our lakes in the state. When you're out on the next fishing trip, purposely look for evidence that someone's been on the ice, any trash that's leftover from someone else, and take it with you when you leave. Recycle glass, plastic and paper and make yourself an advocate for the health and well being of Minnesota's lakes. It's a team approach and we all need to take responsibility in lending a hand.