We hate them! Invasive species discussions will dominate DNR, outdoors media this year

By Chris Niskanen

Minnesotans are suddenly really mad — and scared — about all those aquatic invasive species — zebra mussels, curlyleaf pond weed and Eurasian watermilfoil for instance — that are spreading through our lakes and rivers.

I just returned from the two-day Department of Natural Resources Roundable in Brooklyn Center, where Saturday participants spent nearly four hours talking about invasive species.

They were greeted by a large mounted bighead carp, above, at the registration desk.

One speaker, former DNR biologist and fisheries expert Dick Sternberg, predicted a huge outbreak of zebra mussels this year on Lake Mille Lacs based on the number of larvae found by fisheries managers last fall.

“Besides the budget, aquatic invasive species are the most important issue facing us,” said Bob Meier, DNR assistant commissioner for legislative affairs. “We need to do anything we can now before it’s too late.”

The DNR of late has been a punching bag for lakeshore and cabin owners demanding more aggressive approaches to stopping the spread of invasive plants, mollusks and fish. The DNR has finally taken it to heart, promising Saturday a multi-pronged approach to dealing with the issue.

Some solutions are radical.

Jay Rendall, DNR invasive species coordinator, suggested Saturday setting up “containment zones” around major lakes like Minnetonka and Mille Lacs, where boaters leaving those lakes would be required to stop into special washing stations to clean their boats and undergo inspections.

Some folks want the DNR to go further, such as confiscating boats found to be transporting aquatic invasive species or requiring boaters to have special permits before launching their boats into a lake.

Roundtable participants were visibly worried and gasping during a slideshow by Sternberg that examined the problems caused by zebra mussels in the Great Lakes.

Sternberg had repeated requests for copies of his PowerPoint presentation. One state senator said he wanted Sternberg to show the presentation at the Legislature.

A couple of observations emerged during the Roundtable:

1. It’s obvious that lakeshow and cabin owners, who are getting organized around this issue, are tired of inaction and are looking for Draconian responses, mostly aimed at restricting boating traffic on their lakes.

2. Anglers are worried about the biological impacts of invasives, but they don’t want to be unfairly punished for their boat ownership. They want the pain of regulations spread not just to boaters, but to all Minnesotans.

(One telling slide on Saturday showed a boat lift encrusted with zebra mussels that was purchased by a lakeshore owner who intended to move it to a lake that didn’t have zebra mussels. She was stopped in the nick of time.)

3. The DNR doesn’t have the money to seriously ramp up education and enforcement efforts, and won’t like get much more considering the state’s budget deficit.

4. The spread of zebra mussels terrifies folks because there is no way to get rid of them once they get established in a lake. There is no chemical or biological treatment known.

5. Minnesotans are getting numb to the public campaigns about invasive species, but they’re about to get hit along side the head with a renewed message about the threats invasive species pose.