Last week, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced that a boat and trailer recently used on Lake Minnetonka was found with both zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil as it left Lake Bemidji. Personal responsibility did not work in this case to help stop the spread of invasive species.
The DNR news release also noted Minnesota boaters’ generally dismal compliance with the relevant laws.
Even more disturbing is that in the last six weeks, the DNR has announced that three more lakes chains have been infested with zebra mussels. The list now has grown to about 163 Minnesota lakes, extending from the metro area and central lakes to many popular destinations such as the Brainerd lakes area, as well as lakes further north in Itasca and St. Louis Counties.
Some of the nastier invasive species, like zebra mussels, cause permanent ecological damage to the fish habitat. The long-term changes will harm our state’s economy and our way of life. Minnesotans do not want to see degraded fish habitat, lakes bogged with thickets of weeds, beaches full of shell shards, and clogged water-supply infrastructure. Infested waters put our Minnesota heritage at risk.
It is time to rethink the current approaches to stopping the spread. They just are not working. The original strategy was to educate boaters about invasive species and hope that they would take on the matter as their personal responsibility. Education and awareness was coupled with occasional inspections and decontaminations at infested lakes. That unsuccessful model must be replaced by new approaches to stop the spread of the species now in Minnesota and new species that, unfortunately, are at our doorstep.
You can’t stop new species from entering a lake when inspections take place on the way out of a lake. Minnesota needs to dramatically accelerate watercraft inspection and decontamination efforts to make sure that all boats entering our public waters are free of invasive species.
The Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations has applied to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for a grant to purchase more decontamination units and the land to locate them if necessary. These funds would be available to local governments. Having decontamination units widely available to the public will make it easier for well-intended boaters to fulfill their personal responsibility in halting the spread.
Decontamination is effective on many types of invasive species, including zebra mussels. An owner who requests that a boat be decontaminated should never be turned away, as reportedly has happened.
So far, research efforts seem to be as spotty as personal responsibility. While stopping the Asian carp has become the top priority, the mussels have been left to claim one lake and watershed after another.
Personal responsibility is key to stopping the spread, but it isn’t enough. No one has the right to infest a lake. There must be consequences to irresponsible actions. Government involvement is critical to ensure that the laws are being followed and our public waters are being protected.
It is time for the Legislature, the governor and the DNR to take bolder action. Our future generations are counting on them to do more.
Tom Nelson is president of the Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations.