Minnesota’s fight to stop aquatic invasive species could soon require boaters to pass a 30-minute training course in order to legally pull a trailer in the Land of 10,000 Lakes — a recent state law that resort owners want repealed.
Starting July 1, all trailers that pull boats, docks, lifts or any water related equipment in — or through — the state will be required to carry a decal proving the driver has passed an online class about the state’s invasive species rules. Despite the chance that the whole program might be derailed by the Legislature even before it starts, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is set to launch the class starting Feb. 2.
Resort owners say the program will damage summer tourism by inconveniencing or angering visitors.
“Everyone is concerned about the issue, but this is like taking a sledgehammer to an ant,” said Joel Carlson, lobbyist for the Congress of Minnesota Resorts.
Others say that any resistance to the educational effort is proof that Minnesota lacks the will to prevent ongoing environmental damage from a host of invasives, including zebra mussels, faucet snails, milfoil, bighead carp, and spiny waterfleas. Over the past three years, the number of infestations in Minnesota waters has increased 47 percent to 691, according to the DNR. As of last month, the infestations were spread over 518 lakes, rivers and other water bodies.
“We still have too many people who are not taking this as a serious issue,” said former state Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, who pushed for a variety of bills to thwart invasive species from 2007 to 2014.
On Thursday, House Republicans introduced a bill that calls for a repeal of the trailer decal requirement. The law was adopted in 2012, the last time Republicans controlled the House. It was to be implemented in 2015. A previous law that would have placed invasive-species decals directly on boats was repealed after a backlash from boaters.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said the new one goes beyond what state government should mandate, and he wants it repealed. Boat owners are conscientious enough about ridding their equipment of aquatic hitchhikers and they want to be left alone, Drazkowski said. Besides, the law has no real consequences for violators, he said.
“If we are going to have training requirements, they should be localized,” Drazkowski said.
April Rust, invasive species training coordinator for the DNR, said Thursday that the agency hasn’t changed its plan for launching the program three weeks from now. She stressed that trailer owners will have five months to complete the requirement, or longer if their trailers aren’t on the road pulling water-related equipment.
Within Minnesota, an estimated 500,000 trailers would be subject to the decal requirement. Rust said the program is meant to teach compliance with invasive species laws, like draining a boat’s ballast tanks, livewells, baitwells and other compartments before leaving any water access or shore land. The online training at www.trailers.mndnr.gov is designed to take about 30 minutes, including a 10-question quiz. Paper copies will be available as an alternative.
“It’s not incredibly rigorous, you just have to know the law,” Rust said.
The fee for the stickers, which will be good for three years, is still not determined. But Rust said the money will go only to cover the cost of the program, not to expand state funding to fight aquatic invasive species.
Advancing the effort
The trailer decal program would advance the state’s invasive species education efforts beyond passive billboard and literature campaigns to active education and testing. Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, said the content in the new 30-minute online course is the strongest aspect of the program. He tested an early draft of the training as a member of the state’s Aquatic Invasive Species Advisory Committee.
“Invasives are moved between lakes by people, so anything that improves our education is a good thing,” he said.
Rather than weaken or repeal the program, Minnesota should leverage decal fees to increase funding for new initiatives to halt invasive species, Forester said. The state also should put more teeth into enforcement of the new law by adding financial penalties, he said. As the law is written now, violators may initially be given a temporary pass by police if they promise to complete the training within seven days.
Carlson said at least one Minnesota resort owner already has experienced a “significant” cancellation from an out-of-state customer frustrated by the new requirement. Unmarked trailers from out of state would be illegal — even if the vehicle owners were simply passing through Minnesota.
“We just kind of think it’s a silly law,” said Steve Adler, owner of Cedar Rapids Lodge in Tenstrike, Minn.
Adler said he can readily warn his own out-of-state customers about the decal requirement, but countless other visitors to the state won’t be aware.
“It sends the wrong message to the rest of the Midwest,” Adler said.
But Forester said it’s reasonable to expect boaters in other states to study and obey Minnesota’s aquatic hitchhiker laws when planning trips here, and vice versa. They do exactly the same thing in order to adhere to hunting and fishing rules, which also differ from state to state, he said.
“Moving stuff is the issue, so there’s a certain sense to this law,” he said.