WAPOA lists pluses and minuses in area of aquatic invasive species

By Martha Davidge

The recent news that zebra mussels (ZM) have infested Gull Lake in Crow Wing County underscores the importance of increased diligence on everyone’s part to do what they can to keep these mussels out of waters that have tested – so far – negative for this aquatic invasive species.

The Whitefish Area Property Owners Association (WAPOA) has been working for years in prevention of and education about all aquatic invasive species (AIS). Their work has included sponsoring classes to train volunteers to man accesses, holding courses for lake professionals, educating the public about AIS through news articles, and paying to have 28 sites professionally checked twice each summer for the presence of AIS.

This work does not come without a price tag. Grants have helped, but the main cost of WAPOA’s work on AIS prevention and education has come from membership dues and donations earmarked specifically toward WAPOA’s AIS work.

However, WAPOA membership director Dave Topinka said�a relatively�small percentage of lakeshore landowners are members. He urges residents (both those who own property on and off the lake) as well as visitors and businesses to join and help out in areas like AIS. Membership and donations are tax deductible.

Speaking recently about the news that zebra mussels have been found in numerous locations in Gull Lake, WAPOA AIS director Marv Erdman said there have been (and are currently) pluses and minuses noted in the area of AIS when looking at the Whitefish Chain and surrounding area lakes.

Plus: For the past several years WAPOA has hired PLM Lake & Land Management out of Pequot Lakes to test 28 public, marina and lodge accesses on the Whitefish Chain and surrounding lakes for the presence of AIS. The testing was completed in June and again in August this past summer and the results were good.

Zebra mussels were not found during these assessments, but as Erdman said, zebra mussels start out in a microscopic state and can be present for some time before being found as visible mature mussels. Officials interviewed about Gull Lake’s mussels in recent interviews said it was likely the mussels had been in the lake for some time, but were just not seen.

“While WAPOA is very pleased that no new occurrences of Eurasian water milfoil have been found in the Whitefish Chain and surrounding lakes in 2010 during PLM’s lake vegetation assessments,” said Erdman, “we are extremely disappointed to learn that zebra mussels were found in Gull Lake the first week of October.”

Plus: For the past several years, WAPOA has been sponsoring classes for individuals to learn how to volunteer at public accesses. These volunteers are taught to survey boaters, check for invasives species on boats and trailers, and help educate the public about ways to curtail the spread of AIS.

These much-needed volunteers fill a gap because DNR officials cannot be everywhere; and (minus) cutbacks in state funding for paid DNR workers to man accesses throughout the lake country have meant fewer checks at accesses.

Minus: WAPOA has seen a decrease in the number of people willing to spend the time to take a class or show up to man the accesses. Erdman said trained WAPOA individuals are stretched thin in the boating months, again leaving many accesses unmanned.

Plus: WAPOA and other groups have for several years sponsored a course for lake professionals (dock movers, guides, etc.) in AIS detection and prevention. In fact, it was a trained lake professional who first noted zebra mussels on docks being removed from Gull Lake this fall and brought samples to DNR officials to verify what he’d found.

“Now more than ever it’s important for people to ask their lake professionals to take the class,” Erdman said. “And if they already have, please thank them for taking the time to do it.”

Plus: There is now a Minnesota state law requiring boaters to drain, clean and dry their boat bilges and live wells before they leave any lake or river. The new law also makes it illegal to trailer a boat on a public road with its drain plug in. And it is illegal to dump minnows, leeches, nightcrawlers or any other bait into waters.

WAPOA president Dave Fischer said the publicity about AIS has been beneficial. “Most residents who live up here are aware of the requirements, but many visitors to the area are not,” he said. “We urge lake owners to talk to their visitors about the regulations and the reasons for having them.”

Minus: With the gaps in inspections at accesses, will people follow through when they are in a hurry to get a boat on or off a lake and no one is watching? As Erdman said, one can only hope that people care enough about the lakes to follow the rules and encourage others to do the same.

Minus: Erdman said there are some people who think that because zebra mussels filter water, that the invasives will actually be good for lake water quality. Not so, he said.

“What zebra mussels do is destroy the bottom of the food chain, starting with the microscopic plankton,” said Erdman. “Zebra mussels can kill our native mussels by attaching themselves in enormous numbers and starving or smothering these natives. ZM may also compete with larval fish for small food particles (plant plankton). They are filter feeders, which means they strain tiny food particles from the water and the tens or hundreds of thousands of these mussels may eat so much of this food that there may not be enough left for other aquatic animals, such as larval fish (which become minnows).”

In a recent Star Tribune newspaper article, Dan Swanson, DNR invasive species specialist, said the impact to infested lakes varies, but the mussels can affect water clarity, vegetation growth and thus possibly fisheries.

When Lake Minnetonka was found to have mussels in 2009, Star Tribune writer Laurie Blake said, “Zebra mussels litter beaches, smother native mussels, clog water intakes, and undermine fish and wildlife habitats.”

With swimming, boating and fishing all at risk from the negative effects of AIS, Erdman said an effect on property values is obvious.

“Your membership dues, additional contributions and volunteering efforts with your local lake association, WAPOA, Minnesota Waters or LARA (Lakes And Rivers Alliance) are extremely important,” he said.

“We hope you will help support WAPOA’s activities to receive grants requiring matching funds, train public access monitors and professional lake service providers, and educate the public in general about the necessity to keep our waters free from AIS,” he added.

To join, send your tax-deductible $25 membership check to WAPOA, Box 342, Crosslake, MN 56442. You may donate more and earmark it for AIS. Learn more about the lake association’s work at www.wapoa.org.

(Martha Davidge is publicity director for WAPOA.)