Funding cuts affect AIS inspections
Like everything else, the pandemic affected the county’s 2020 aquatic invasive species (AIS) program.
Nicholas Macklem, a Hubbard County Environmental Services specialist who coordinates the AIS program, shared the “unique challenges” and highlights of the season with the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations.
“As everybody knows, COVID came along and changed things for everybody,” Macklem said at his Oct. 29 presentation via Zoom.
First of all, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) initially delayed Level 1 AIS inspection training, then moved it online in the spring.
“We did get a decent amount of inspectors trained in by fishing opener, so we had 23 of the lakes staffed. That’s not as many as we would, typically, in a normal season, but this wasn’t a normal season. Luckily, we did have inspectors out at the highest-traffic, busiest accesses in the county despite the training delays,” he said.
In-person Level 2 AIS inspection training was also delayed, which meant there initially was a shortage of certified inspectors to operate the county’s watercraft decontamination station.
“Unfortunately, we only had two returning Level 2 inspectors returning for the season, so it wasn’t enough staffing to have our typical on-call system that we’ve had in the past,” Macklem said.
As a courtesy to the public, the county operates a free decontamination station, located at 812 Henrietta Ave. S., Park Rapids. Normally, it’s available seven days a week by appointment. The Hubbard County Board authorized the operation without certified inspectors until training became available.
There were 98 decontaminations, compared to 164 last year.
Finally, the county board asked departments to cut expenses by 20 percent. “The main thing this affected was our number of inspection hours. It cut it roughly 2,500 hours total, and this was unfortunate, but I understand the county board’s decision with all the financial uncertainty that came with the pandemic,” Macklem said.
Inspection hours dropped from 15,744 last year to 13,200 this year. While there were fewer hours, he said the holidays, weekends and busiest times were prioritized at roughly 35 lake accesses.
In all, there were 48 AIS inspectors who conducted 25,072 inspections. Macklem noted that it was a busy summer, which he attributes to more people “using the great resources that we have on our area lakes.”
In August, volunteers gathered to search for starry stonewort, one of Minnesota’s newest aquatic invasive species, at 10 lake and river accesses on nine lakes in the Nevis area.
“Luckily, we didn’t find anything,” Macklem said of the 2020 Starry Trek event.
Infested waters update
In 2020, the DNR confirmed Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive aquatic plant, in Big Mantrap Lake near Emmaville.
The lake association was “really proactive and hired a company to come out to take a look at it further and do some treatments,” Macklem reported. “Some of our (Hubbard County AIS) Rapid Response dollars went out to help the lake association with that initial treatment. That one we’ll continue to monitor further.”
Macklem said treatment cost approximately $2,000.
The DNR also confirmed that zebra mussels were found in Long Lake, around the south access near Hubbard. “They’ve only found a few mussels, but there really isn’t a great treatment method at this point,” Macklem said.
A Boulder Lake Association member discovered faucet snails this summer, which the DNR confirmed, which Macklem said is also difficult to treat.
Theora Goodrich said she wanted “to impress on county officials and others that more people will continue to be on the water, especially if COVID continues,” so AIS inspections need to be fully funded, not cut in 2021.
Rich Halvorsen on Big Mantrap Lake inquired about hurdles to establishing a second decon station farther north in the county, like Emmaville.
Macklem said there isn’t county land or a county facility that could house a decon unit. “We have less inspectors in that area, too,” he said.
Jon Dennis from Spider Lake asked about a quarantine-based license tag that can only be removed from a boat by an AIS inspector and decontamination.
Macklem said Wright County temporarily adopted a tagging program, but the DNR did not renew those guidelines due to issues that arose.
Andrea Dutcher from Belle Taine suggested that the DNR put a barcode on watercraft that could be swiped as they enter and exit a lake. The information would be stored in a statewide database. “Right now, we’re relying on the honesty of boaters,” she said.
Macklem said that would need to be authorized by the DNR. “It’s a great idea,” he said, but may be costly at a time when finances are uncertain.