Boaters, others need to cooperate in fight to control invasives.
Minnesotans love their lakes and rivers. The urge to head to the cabin and/or a body of water is practically embedded in the DNA of folks around these parts. Increasingly, however, stewardship of our waters means more than practicing responsible boating, fishing and swimming. It means taking the extra steps necessary to keep them healthy and free of invasives.
To better protect our natural resources, the Legislature and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and some municipalities have taken important steps to protect lakes from invasive species. They're to be commended for their actions -- even when new rules involve minor inconveniences for boaters and others who like to have fun on the water.
As of this week, the state doubled the fine for transporting watercraft or equipment with attached aquatic plants to $100. Those who possess or transport a prohibited species such as zebra mussels will now be fined $500. Those with prior convictions face fines of twice those amounts.
The penalties were increased because, despite the public awareness campaign, the percentage of boaters violating the laws has been increasing.
In fact, early in June conservation officers checked nearly 8,000 boaters and wrote 193 criminal citations, 463 civil citations and 975 warnings -- a 20 percent noncompliance rate vs. 18 percent last year.
New state rules also require that boat lifts, docks and swim rafts removed from one body of water not be placed in another for a least 21 days. That recognizes that even the most thorough cleaning can leave behind invasive species inside tubes and poles.
Boat access on some state lakes has been limited. And last month Shorewood became the state's first city to require that all boats be inspected before entering a lake. Boaters there can be fined up to $1,000 if they launch into Christmas Lake without an inspection.
DNR officials report that about 420 state lakes have some level of infestation from invasive species, and 800 have problems with a plant called curly leaf pondweed. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of state lakes remain free of invasive species and weeds.
Failure to protect those state assets would damage water quality and curtail recreational use for Minnesotans and tourists. Eurasian milfoil sometimes grows so fast and thick that boaters can't make their way through patches of the prolific weed. Curly leaf pondweed can lead to a number of water quality concerns.
And the most well-known nuisance, the infamous fast-spreading zebra mussel, can diminish food sources for younger fish. Zebra mussels set the stage to allow for other nuisance plants to flourish -- including some types of foul-smelling algae. City and county governments can end up spending millions per year clearing them out of intake pipes. In addition, dead zebra mussels can wash up on beaches and can cut swimmers' feet.
The general public needs to recognize that the 140 inspectors now on duty can cover only a tiny portion of Minnesota's tens of thousands of lakes and more than 76,000 miles of rivers. They're stationed primarily on the larger, more-public bodies of water with public access points.
"We know we can't possibly be everywhere that people have access to lakes,'' said Jan Rendall, a DNR spokesman. "So we've done a lot of training for lake service providers and other businesses. We do either in-person or online training for over 7,000 businesses that give guidance to boaters.''
That means Minnesotans must be conscientious about self-policing when it comes to moving boats, bait or any watercraft equipment from one body of water to another.
If we all follow the wise rules set out by the DNR, Minnesota waters will be healthy and ecologically balanced for generations to come.