Anderson: Invasives feeding off indifference

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 9, 2012 - 10:03 PM

The fight to stop aquatic invasive species in Minnesota needs to become a higher priority.

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Some zebra mussels on the bottom of Lake Mille Lacs have turned a turquoise and white color, and officials suspect that's because they have been stressed, possibly by warmer water this summer.

Photo: Tom Jones, Minn. DNR

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News that some west-metro lakeshore owners hope to seal off as many as 129 lakes to visiting anglers and others who recreate on water unless they pass a Clean Boat Test confirms the state is devolving into tribalism as it attempts to fight infestations of zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species (AIS).

"It's time to quit screwing around,'' said Joe Schneider, president of the Christmas Lake Homeowners Association, in a story by Kelly Smith published in Monday's Star Tribune. "If we keep waiting for the DNR to be ramping up ... it'll be game over.''

True as that might be, the Department of Natural Resources takes its orders, and its budget, from the Legislature, a fact Schneider knows well because he sat in on House and Senate meetings at which various plans to fight invasive species were detailed.

Of course, money always was the limiting factor in those deliberations, and in the end legislators took the cheapskate route and approved a plan that has no chance of prevailing against the further spread of various evil critters and plants.

Schneider and others might argue the bigger problem is the DNR and its lack of urgency and big, bold thinking. Some of which is accurate.

But the greater truth that Schneider and others who hope to effectively ward off environmental threats such as AIS should know is that too few people in Minnesota, and even fewer elsewhere, give a rip about invasive species, or for that matter climate change, wetland drainage, woodlot loss, river siltation, mercury poisoning of fish, the hypoxia zone at the mouth of the Mississippi or any other modern problem -- unless it gores their particular ox.

Unfortunately for those who clamor for fast action when a specific threat arises that threatens them or, as in this case, their property values, the state's, and the nation's environmental defense infrastructure has been sufficiently neutered over time to reflect this generalized indifference. And to reflect as well the disproportionate power that special interests wield over natural resources agencies and the broader political system when they believe proposed laws and regulations threaten them or their bottom lines.

Hey, zebra mussels spreading in the west metro aren't even the biggest AIS problem facing the state. And it's likely, in any event, their further spread will occur naturally, by bird and animal. A worse threat to Minnesota as a whole are the Asian carp swimming up the Mississippi -- soon to be followed by snakeheads and other gory stuff.

How to stop them? Build an electric barrier at the lock in Keokuk, Iowa, and close the locks at the Ford Dam and St. Anthony Falls. For what's at stake, the cash outlay would be chump change.

Will it happen? Not soon. Probably never. Too much politics involved. Too many special interests.

Welcome to the club, Joe Schneider.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com On Twitter: @stribdennis

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