About a month ago, I attended an open house for the proposed Wright County Regional AIS Inspection Program. This proposal is the newest twist in our state’s efforts to protect Minnesota lakes from aquatic invasive species. What’s new is that this proposal will require boaters to travel to a regional inspection site before they are allowed to launch their boats into any of the lakes in the program. If their boats require decontamination, it will be done at that regional site. Boats passing the inspection will get proof of inspection and will be able to launch. This is a big change for the boating public and is a more cost-effective way to provide better and more complete AIS coverage to Minnesota lakes. But not everyone is happy.
An aggravated fisherman told me that this program is denying him access to boating wherever and whenever he wants, because the county-run regional inspection site isn’t open 24/7. He argues that he can’t get inspected at three or four in the morning when he may want to go fishing. In reality, he could get inspected the day before during a time when the regional station is open. But that was “too inconvenient” and thus the program is denying him access.
It got me to thinking about the inconvenience of AIS.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources controls the AIS prevention programs around the state, and to date they have all been designed to not be “inconvenient” to the boating public. Forget about caring for our public waters. Our programs have been designed to keep the DNR fish factories churning so fishing licenses, bait sales and the resulting federal money keep coming. With very few exceptions, all AIS inspections are done at public accesses so that the boating public isn’t inconvenienced. Unfortunately, that decentralized model of “at landing” inspections gives our state the least amount of prevention for the dollars spent. The math behind a regional model is compelling when compared against the current “at landing” models, but boater convenience has clearly been more important than protecting the water.
Across the state, the AIS problem is getting worse. The DNR acknowledges (finally!) the significant negative effects to the walleye population on Mille Lacs from zebra mussels and spiny water fleas. We keep spreading the AIS already in the state to new lakes, and new invasive species like starry stonewort continue coming into Minnesota.
Placating Minnesota boaters with convenience ignores the reality that AIS is really inconvenient to the state as a whole. Significant time and money are being spent across the state to stop, slow or live with the spread of aquatic invasive species. AIS is affecting every level of government in the state, starting with the DNR, but also including the counties, cities, townships, soil and water conservation districts, watershed districts, park districts, and lake improvement districts. AIS prevention and control efforts are requiring significant amounts of money and volunteer time from lake and river associations, lakefront and river property owners, boaters, and the general public that, by the way, pays the taxes for all of the government efforts. And just ask the resorts, bait shops, guides and other tourism-based businesses around Mille Lacs if AIS is having an effect on them.
So, yes, AIS is inconvenient, but it’s time to put the state’s concerns ahead of the few inconvenienced boaters who are complaining so loudly. As “Star Trek’s” Spock said to Capt. Kirk: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
By the way, there are lots of inconveniences we live with in our daily lives. “No smoking” areas are inconvenient. Recycling is inconvenient. Climate change is inconvenient. The list of personal inconveniences goes on and on, but one thing is sure: Over time, we have gotten smarter, and scientists believe humans are doing damage to the planet. And as of now, this is our only planet.
We need to try something new in our fight to protect Minnesota’s public waters from the spread of AIS. Inspections at boat landings for the convenience of the boaters is way too costly to replicate across the state’s 3,000 boat landings, and it is clear that half-measures won’t do enough to stop the spread. The Wright County Board gets it and unanimously approved moving forward with this program. Now the DNR is requiring another vote of the board (anticipated Tuesday) to reconfirm minor changes to the plan that the DNR required. Talk about dragging your feet.
The proposed regional inspection model is legal, it is creative, and it will allow the state to see a new plan in action. Will it have to be improved? Surely, but until we try something we won’t know. Changing our behavior in the face of new inconveniences is hard, and this program requires behavioral change by the boating public.
It’s time to try something different — something that is better for all Minnesotans.
Joe Shneider is an environmental activist focused on protecting lakes from AIS. He is on the executive committee for MN COLA, the head of the Coalition of Minnehaha Creek Waters, and the president of the Christmas Lake Homeowner’s Association.