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Are Minnesota’s lakes half empty with aquatic invasive species, or half full?

It has been a difficult few weeks for Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. Six new lakes have been listed as infested with starry stonewort. This microalga was first discovered at the DNR public water access on Lake Koronis in Stearns County last summer. Starry stonewort has a reputation for being extremely aggressive. In Michigan it spread from just one lake in 2006 to 200 lakes in 2012.

Jeff Forester

On Koronis it is forming dense, stringy mats along much of the shore. Treatment is proving difficult, expensive and only partially effective. Almost 200,000 pounds have been removed from a 6-acre test plot by a mechanical harvester.

Duane Eden, a 40-year Koronis resident, noted that “it is nothing like milfoil … you have to work to get a boat out, swimming is nonexistent, lakeshore is worthless and no more fishing off the dock with the kids.”

‘Prospective buyers walk out on the dock, and leave’

Another Koronis resident, Roland Ebert, has seen an impact on home sales on the lake: “Prospective buyers walk out on the dock, and leave. That’s why people buy a lake property, to enjoy swimming, boating, fishing and you can’t do that here. There’s no access.”

Shortly after the discovery of starry stonewort, the Lake Koronis Association urged the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to close the infested access, and direct traffic to one of the other access sites on the lake. A resort owner on the lake likewise supported this request. The Stearns County commissioners asked the DNR for “Emergency action.” In a Sept. 8, 2015, letter, the commissioners wrote, “All but one boat launch should be closed to incoming and exiting traffic. One boat launch to remain open during specified hours and to require 100% incoming inspection, 100% exit inspection and/or 100% thermal decontamination.”

The commissioners also asked the DNR to “investigate, develop and implement an aggressive plan … to treat the existing population in the lake.” The DNR did close the access for a few days in the fall of 2015 while it attempted a chemical treatment. The treatment failed. The access remains open today.

Discovered in Bemidji area

Late this summer, starry stonewort was discovered in the Bemidji area on Turtle Lake, Upper Red, Cass, Moose Lake and Winnibigoshish. In Stearns County, Rice Lake was also listed as infested. Luckily, there are thousands of Minnesotans across the state who are working to prevent the further spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) within Minnesota. Five hundred of these lake activists will gather in St. Cloud on Wednesday and Thursday (Oct. 5 and 6) at the Second Annual Aquatic Invaders Summit to hear speakers from across the state and nation. They will form critical partnerships, build relationships, increase consistency and communication, and identify gaps that must be closed to protect lakes and rivers.

At the State Fair Gov. Mark Dayton urged Minnesotans to take a “water steward pledge.” Well, these people took that pledge long ago and have been working hard for years to fulfill it. There is solid evidence for optimism. The number of authorized inspectors in Minnesota has risen from 130 in 2013 to nearly 1,000 today. In 2015, there were 344,000 AIS inspections that intercepted over 31,000 watercraft with an AIS issue.

Innovations are emerging

At the Aquatic Invaders Summit, Wildlife Forever will present technology-based solutions to AIS education; the DNR will share aggressive new starry stonewort eradication efforts that hopefully will work, and scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will present cutting-edge, gene-drive technology that may one day effectively eradicate aquatic invasive species within a lake.

The County AIS Prevention Aid Program — approved by the 2014 Legislature — is only in its second year, and already innovations are emerging in education, enforcement, inspection, management and legislative framework. Everyone who cares about our lakes should come and be part of the solution at the summit. Too much is riding on finding solutions that won’t tip the balance into more negative territory on our precious water resources.

Jeff Forester is the executive director of the nonprofit Minnesota Lakes & Rivers Advocates, a co-sponsor of the AIS Summit. To learn more about the summit and to register, go here.

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