DNR officials asked to draft House bill on invasive species

by T.W. Budig

Zebra mussels attached to a native mussel. Photo by Deborah Rose

ECM Capitol reporter

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials were urged Wednesday, Feb. 2 at a House hearing to immediately write legislation to strengthen state law dealing with the spread of invasive species.

“This is unbelievably serious,” said House environment and natural resources committee Chairman Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, of the threat such invasive species as the Zebra Mussel, recently discovered in Lake Minnetonka, continuing to spread across the state.

The chairman gave the directions during a hearing on aquatic invasive species.

In recent times there has been an unprecedented spread of invasive species within Minnesota, said DNR invasive species specialist Luke Skimmer to the committee.

Skinner listed the zebra mussel, a mussel capable of adhering to any hard surface — capable of clogging the inside of boat motors — and through its filtering believed to disrupt the food chain as to impact game fish, Asian carp, and Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) as three aquatic invasive species probably threatening the greatest environment impact.

While VHS, which can kill-off muskellunge, bass, pike and other game fish, currently is not in Minnesota, it has been confirmed in Lake Superior, said Skinner.

Asian Carp also a concern

Though the last Asian carp — the biggest concern being the Silver and Bighead — was caught in Minnesota waters in 2009, the fish continue up the Mississippi River, Skinner explained.

Flooding helps the carp get around man-made barriers such a locks and dams, he noted.

Knowing the exact threat posed by invasive species takes time — decades, he explained.

In recent years the DNR has stepped up its invasive species enforcement and boat inspection efforts, DNR officials reported.

Last summer the agency had some 90 boat inspectors stationed at accesses across the state. But the task is daunting.

There are some 800,000 registered watercraft in Minnesota, a number that swells with about 100,000 boats coming in from out-of-state.

On Lake Mille Lacs alone, there are some 40 boat launches, most being private, with as many as 100,000 boats being launched onto the lake a year.

It’s estimated that to staff enough boat inspectors to provide 16-hour a day inspections on the lake alone would cost as much as $10 million, said Skinner.

Minnesotans are concerned

But Minnesotans are concerned about the spread of invasive species. Last year the DNR sponsored four “stakeholder” meetings to elicit ideas from the public. Some of the ideas presented included increasing the penalties on aquatic invasive species violations.

That is, doubling tickets from $50 to $100.

Last year DNR officials wrote 159 tickets for invasive species violations — just one was a criminal ticket. They also wrote some 350 warnings.

Other stakeholder ideas included more boat inspections, better public awareness, required training for lake service providers, and more controversially focusing efforts on high-risk, high-use waters like Lake Minnetonka and Mille Lacs.

Human activity is almost entirely responsible for the spread of aquatic invasive species.

In general, people understand the threat they pose, Skinner explained.

The question is whether they’ll follow through when puling their boat out of the lake in the evening when the mosquitoes are fierce and it’s tempting to simply leave.

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