Lake associations push for help in invasive species fight

Zebra mussels on a twig
In this July 21, 2011 photo, Margaret Schupp displays zebra mussels that have latched on to a small twig on the shore of Fair Hills resort on Pelican Lake in Minnesota.
AP Photo/The Forum, Chris Franz

Erika Johnson paid little attention to invasive species until two years ago when zebra mussels infested Pelican Lake, where her family has shared a cabin for 70 years.

This past summer, Johnson learned how much zebra mussels have changed life at the west-central Minnesota lake.

"The biggest thing is how sharp they are. So when you jump in the water they're like little mini razor blades," Johnson said. "It's like having a knife cut your foot. The kids get out of the water and blood is dripping off their feet."

Johnson said some people no longer swim at the lake. Others only go in the water with shoes to protect their feet.

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That's the kind of experience that might hurt local economies, said Terry Kalil, vice president of the Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations. Kalil is one of the organizers of a conference on invasive species hosted by lake associations this Saturday in Detroit Lakes.

Kalil said if tourists stay away from lakes, local businesses lose money. She also worries lake property values could decline.

"That has real serious implications for county government, city government, school district, anybody who relies on property taxes," she said.

Signs posted at public lake access points are part of the DNR effort to educate boaters about invasive species. The DNR says the primary focus is education, but people who violate the law can face fines.
MPR File Photo/Dan Gunderson

Kalil said there's growing concern among lake shore associations and county officials. Many lakeshore owners want lawmakers to spend more in the fight against invasive species.

She called the expanded boat inspection and decontamination program recently announced by the state Department of Natural Resources a good start. But she said the state needs a much more aggressive approach to invasive species.

Kalil said that starts with more money. She also said there's widespread support for higher fees to fight invasive species such as zebra mussels or Asian carp.

"Why not tap into some of those sources of potential funding to help pay for a good comprehensive statewide program," Kalil said. "Funding is clearly at the top of the list of things we can talk about."

An attempt to raise fees for fishing and boat licenses failed during the last legislative session.

State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee said he will push for license fee increases again this year.

"I think the caucus is ready to consider that and they are user fees, that's what they are, they're not taxes," said Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandra. "It's something I think is certainly of immediacy that we need to do it this year. And I'm going to be carrying that ball forward."

But Ingebrigtsen said just throwing more money at invasive species isn't the answer. He said more research is needed to find long-term solutions to invasive species. He also thinks the state should do better at working with lake associations and counties.

"We have to do better in the Legislature about moving quicker. Because these things are not waiting for us to make decisions. They're just continuously growing," Ingebrigtsen said. "It's something we can't just sit on our thumbs, we can't just sit and watch it happen. We at least have to try to do something."

Many people agree that stopping invasive species is probably not possible. But Ingebrigtsen said just slowing the spread will limit the environmental and economic damage.