As April opened with wind-driven snow and temperatures that still featured wind-chill readings, Minnesotans longingly looked from their windows, waiting for the day when ice-covered lakes would open and freshwater fishing could resume. It’s a way of life, and in Minnesota, sport fishing is a $2.8 billion industry of vital importance to the state’s economy and well-being.
The importance of our state’s natural resources can be taken for granted. It shouldn’t be. As winter releases its long-lasting grip, it is time to take stock of the condition of state water bodies and reinforce the need for better stewardship. There is work to do.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has produced findings on the condition of our lakes and rivers that can’t be ignored. The DNR has identified bodies of water that are infested with a number of invasive aquatic plants, including nearly 300 lakes with infestations of Eurasian water milfoil. Nearly 200 lakes and rivers are infested with zebra mussels.
The seriousness of invasive aquatic plant species and zebra mussels is often dwarfed by the growing threat of Asian carp that continue to migrate north and pose a threat of reaching northern Minnesota. Pictures of carp jumping into boats grab our attention. The problems related to weeds and mussels that clog lakes and choke off nutrients needed by fish are hidden below the surface.
It is encouraging that some positive signs are coming from St. Paul. Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature are crafting a bonding bill that provides badly needed dollars to address the seriousness of many aquatic invasive species.
There is support for $6 million in bonding dollars to assist the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the University of Minnesota. The center operates in partnership with the DNR in the effort to combat plant infestations, zebra mussels and the spread of carp. Funding is desperately needed. The bonding dollars would provide upgrades to the center’s century-old building and target inadequate water, electrical and heating and cooling systems. With an improved facility, the center expects to add more student researchers tasked with studying invasive aquatic plants. A $3 million bonding proposal would be matched by $3 million in University dollars for a new lab to study problems related to bees.
Our lawmakers need to make sure these projects are not left on the cutting table when the final bonding bill is carved out. They are simply too important to pass over.
Bonding for a $5 million dam repair and carp barrier on the Rum River in Anoka has not been supported by the governor. The dam repair ranks only 42nd on the DNR’s priority list. The threat of carp migrating north to Mille Lacs Lake through the Rum River is real and the Anoka barrier is a step to protect the state’s marquee walleye fishery from a carp infestation. It should not be ignored for long.
It is not only lawmakers who must be good stewards. Everyone who launches a boat needs to do their part to avoid spreading aquatic plants and zebra mussels from lake to lake. And there have been positive results.
The DNR continues to work with local government to train monitors who check boats at launch areas. Conservation officers remain vigilant and fewer violators were issued misdemeanor tickets in 2013 compared to 2012. Watershed district boards and private lake associations are stepping forward. These efforts, coupled with public education, will help slow the spread of invasive aquatic plant species and zebra mussels that are here now.
There are procedures that need to be taken by anyone launching a boat. State law requires that all visible aquatic plants and zebra mussels be cleaned from a boat, trailer and other water-related equipment before leaving a boat launch. Drain all boat ballast tanks, portable bait containers, livewell, bilge and baitwell containers before leaving a water access and keep drain plugs open while moving a boat. Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash. It is recommended that boats and equipment be sprayed and rinsed and allowed to dry before going to another water body.
There is little we can do in the wait for winter to pass, but when it comes to protecting our lakes and rivers, there is much we can and must do. – An opinion from the ECM Publishers Editorial Board