There is a bold solution yet to be offered. It's a drastic but near-certain prevention, rather than a cure.
The recent news about the extent of zebra mussel infestation in Mille Lacs is just the tip of that environmental iceberg. Its impact on the fishery and its economic consequences are yet to be realized. I shudder to imagine this scene playing out in one of our Boundary Waters lakes, like Saganaga, Basswood, Clearwater or any other of the wilderness lakes that allow motor boat access. Is it truly just a matter of time before these lakes also fall victim to infestation? Sadly, it is, given that our current best efforts fall terribly short.
But it doesn't have to be. There is a bold solution yet to be offered. It's a drastic but near-certain prevention, rather than a cure. It will undeniably stop aquatic invasive species from gaining entry into new waters. It is a total ban on outside boats, motors, bait and bait containers on uncontaminated lakes and waterways. It can be achieved through a state-run system of recreational and fishing boat and bait concessions.
Expensive? Impractical? A violation of Minnesotans' precious "right" to boat and fish wherever they please? Maybe so. But which is more precious -- our "rights" or our waters? Imagine if such a system had been put in place when the first zebra mussels were found in the Great Lakes.
Can you already hear the outcry from fishermen, boat owners, and boat and motor manufacturers and retailers? Yet they all share in the blame and must also share in the pain of any solution, because without truly drastic action, all of our waterways and 10,000 lakes are in real peril, as is the legacy of fishing that we love and treasure in Minnesota. Not to mention the multimillion-dollar economic benefit.
Not so long ago, it was common for fisherman to drive to a lake and rent a boat. But that was before seemingly everyone owned their boats and discovered their "right" to haul them and the exotic species that inevitably stow away to the lakes of their choosing. These perceived rights are fostered by our hyperindividualistic, have-it-all-and-more culture. (Remember, it was our "right" to import and consume cheap goods that brought these organisms to our shores in the first place.)
I suppose there is another possible fix. That would be to install truly hygienic decontamination equipment at each and every access point on all of our 10,000 lakes -- or at least the ones we value enough to protect. But this would be even more expensive and inconvenient, and it would require harsh and environmentally unfriendly chemicals, plus resource-intensive heat, water and runoff treatment, not to mention enforcement, management and infrastructure.
We can't have it both ways -- carefree access to our lakes and rivers with private boats, and waters free of exotic species. That has been proven. Even our best and most sincere efforts to do the right thing haven't been enough. Only controlled access through licensed concessionaires can halt the spread of infestation.
It's not simple, either, since it will require a commitment from our neighbor to the north to do the same. And it's a bitter pill to swallow for a liberty-loving people who revel in the wealth of Minnesota's natural treasures, cultural heritage and family traditions. But it's medicine we must take in order to save what remains, or we'll risk losing it all.
David Bellert lives in Minnetonka.
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