Paul Austin

Paul Austin is the director of Conservation Minnesota, a statewide non-profit. In that role, he gets to hear and share Minnesotan’s stories about our lakes, lands and way of life. Paul’s past lives include election as a small town mayor, serving at the US Agency for International Development, and managing a small marketing firm. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, two small children and one very large dog.

The Fight For Independence (from aquatic invasive species)

Posted by: Paul Austin Updated: July 1, 2014 - 9:15 AM

Earlier this week, a press release from the Department of Natural Resources hit my desk.  A shell collector walking along the south shore of Lake Melissa just south of Detroit Lakes had found evidence of zebra mussels.  Despite the fact that the Detroit Lakes area had made it this far without any evidence of zebra mussels, a quick investigation by the DNR confirmed that the invasive species has sadly taken root there. 

For those who are unaware, zebra mussels were first identified in Russia in the later part of the 1700s, but by hitching rides in the ballast water of commercial shipping vessels, they have made their way around the globe.  And unlike in Europe where there are a few natural predators for the mussels, in North America, there are none to keep their spread in check. 

A female zebra mussel can produce a half million eggs a year, so their spread has become problematic wherever they have been found.  While their ability to filter pollution out of water would be laudable if done in balance with the lake, they have a tendency to clean water so effectively that forage for other aquatic species is diminished and soon, with light reaching deeper in the lake, weeds begin to take over. 

I checked out the link to the DNR website on the bottom of the release for more info.  When I navigated to the link for the list of infested waters, I found a seventeen-page spreadsheet that listed lakes from every corner of the state.  Some had zebra mussels, others had Eurasian milfoil, spiny water fleas, flowering rush and some had a combination of all of the above. 

It served as a good reminder.  If your Independence Day weekend plans include any time out on a boat, take a quick minute to check out the DNR’s list of infested waters.  


Even if the lake you are on is not on the list, still take extra caution to make sure you clean all aquatic plants and animals from your boat and trailer before leaving the access.  Also, it is now illegal to travel with the drain plug in your boat, so make sure to pull it when you come off the lake and if you have one, you also must drain your live well before pulling away.  If you are transporting bait, the law says you must drain any remaining lake water from your bait bucket and refill with tap or bottled water if you plan to move to another lake with the bait bucket. 

The rules are basic. The less water, plant and animal life we move between lakes, the lower our risk of jeopardizing the health of the lakes we love. 

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