In fighting invasives, Minnesota boaters navigate more inspections

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 25, 2013 - 10:39 PM

The forecast this summer calls for extra checks in lakes big and small to stop the spread of invasive species, much to some boaters’ dismay.


Steve Rondeau, a DNR watercraft inspector, chatted with new boat owners Anthony and Yvette Hutchins of St. Louis Park near Lake Minnetonka last week. Boaters are going to be seeing more inspectors this year, as the DNR is boosting the number to 150 statewide.


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Facing little traffic and lots of fish, the only thing standing between angler Paul Martinson and Lake Minnetonka last week were two watercraft inspectors, asking him questions and scanning his boat before he fished for crappies.

But like many of Minnesota’s 2.3 million boaters, Martinson has reluctantly accepted the new routine.

“It’s a pain,” said the Dayton resident, adding that he changed his habits after he was fined $130 for not following rules on when to put in the boat’s drain plug. But “it is what it is.”

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, boaters are going to run into more watercraft inspectors this Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial kickoff to the boating season — as everyone from local groups to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) boosts the number of inspectors and money spent to try to slow the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species.

From Lake Minnetonka, one of the state’s busiest lakes, to Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes, researchers are donning scuba gear and boarding kayaks to track down the earliest signs of invasive species. Other lake associations are focusing on educating the public, even getting restaurants to print place mats with details on invasive species.

While some critics say the state isn’t doing enough, the new measures follow last year’s unprecedented new prevention efforts that some boaters saw as an affront to unfettered access to public waterways.

“The demand for greater protection of water is very high,” said Joe Shneider, president of the homeowners association at Christmas Lake, which is next to Lake Minnetonka. “We’re just turning the corner on this ramp up on spending on this.”

‘What are lakes worth?’

Public concern and awareness have dramatically increased the last couple of years as invasive species such as zebra mussels have infested more Minnesota lakes. As a result, local funding to fight aquatic invasive species has increased by 40 percent over the past three years, with watershed districts, park districts, cities, counties and other local governments spending more than $5 million on it.

“The interest in this issue is rising each year,” said Jeff Forester, executive director of the Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates. “It will have devastating effects for everyone even if you don’t use the lakes.”

Losing water and fishing quality could put a dent in the state’s $11-billion-a-year tourism industry, which relies heavily on resorts.

“What are the lakes worth to Minnesota?” said Barb Halbakken Fischburg, president of the Lake Detroiters Association. “They support industry and jobs and tourism.”

This year, the DNR is boosting the number of inspectors to 150 statewide and piloting a new program with dogs trained to detect the tiny zebra mussels, the second state to do so.

Enforcement also could increase because all conservation officers have been trained in aquatic invasive species laws. Boaters who don’t clean off weeds, and pull the drain plug and drain water from bait buckets and livewells could be stuck with a ticket of $100 or more. Last year, more than 1,000 citations and 1,550 written warnings were given out.

It seems to have sent a message last year. The percentage of boaters not complying with aquatic invasive species rules dropped from 20 percent at the start of 2012 to 14 percent by the end of the year.

“We’re going to have a strong effort out there,” said Maj. Phil Meier, operations manager for the DNR enforcement division.

In outstate Minnesota, more lakes associations are organizing aquatic invasive species prevention efforts or forming coalitions to pool resources and ideas. In the Twin Cities, Carver County plans to create the first regional inspection station later this summer, requiring Christmas Lake boaters to go to Lake Minnewashta to get inspected.

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