The latest threat to Minnesota’s beloved lakes is a form of algae known for its stringy green branchlets, rapidly spreading mats and the small, puffy snowflake-shaped “bulbils” denoted in this aquatic invader’s name: starry stonewort.
This Labor Day weekend, there ought to be photos of it posted “Most Wanted”-style at every boat ramp and dock across the state. There’s no guaranteed way to eradicate it, which means that preventing its spread via fragments on boats, trailers, anchors, docks and other recreational equipment on the move is critical.
With Wisconsin and Michigan already battling this nonnative algae with little success, it was sadly a matter of time before it hitched a ride into Minnesota waters. A week ago, state officials not only confirmed that starry stonewort is here, but that it’s here in a big way. The newly discovered colony in central Minnesota’s Lake Koronis is massive, covering 53 acres. Nearby Mud Lake is also infested. The heavy boat traffic going in and out of popular Lake Koronis makes other Minnesota colonies likely.
The trouble with starry stonewort, one of a number of destructive aquatic invaders gaining beachheads here, isn’t just that it chokes out native plants and fish. At this point, herbicides don’t seem to kill the bulbils or completely kill the algae off, allowing it to grow back with reduced competition from native plants.
On Silver Lake in southeast Wisconsin, the state Department of Natural Resources has teamed up with Eco Waterway to try “diver-assisted suction harvesting” in a small area near a boat launch. Workers in scuba gear pluck out the branches by hand and feed them through a suction hose into a boat, where they’re bagged for removal. An unanswered question is whether fragments left behind regenerate. The cost of the project is about $18,000. The cost of tackling a 53-acre colony? Eco Waterway Services owner Pat Dalman said the project of that size would be challenging and cost up to $500,000.
The timing of Minnesota officials’ announcement of starry stonewort’s discovery, on a late Friday afternoon, was unfortunate. The message about the consequences of trailering boats without properly cleaning them may have been lost in Minnesotans’ rush toward the weekend. But there’s still time for DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr to make that point. We’d also like to see Landwehr and Gov. Mark Dayton re-energize the debate about Minnesota’s aquatic invasive species strategy and resources devoted to it.
In fiscal 2014, funding from state, local and federal sources for the state’s Invasive Species Program totaled $10.8 million. Experts say that’s a healthy amount, but is it enough? And is it focused on the right activities? Should Minnesota also consider increased boat inspections or even quarantine-type restrictions? Is a state whose Legislature this year repealed a modest aquatic invasive species training and trailer decal program even capable of taking stronger action to protect its lakes?
Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, made an excellent point this week: The avian flu outbreak this year galvanized quick action by lawmakers, industry and state officials to protect private resources. Our state waters are a public resource and a pillar of the state’s economy and quality of life. They are under siege by starry stonewort and other invasive species.
This is a crisis, too.