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New tactics in battle against invasive species in Minn.

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Marty Kiebke
Marty Kiebke watches his daughter and a friend leave the public access on a jet ski at Lake Melissa. Kiebke says he doesn't mind that local officials closed several boat ramps in an effort to keep zebra mussels out of the lake. Kiebke keeps his watercraft at a cabin on the lake all summer; since he doesn't move from lake to lake, he's not likely to spread invasive species like zebra mussels.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

SHOREHAM, Minn. -- Clayton Jensen spends a lot of time at the public access to Lake Melissa, about a mile down the beach from his home.

He carries a handful of glossy fliers he designed and printed, simple one-page handouts that explain how boaters can prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

The creatures, which include zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil, are moving from lake to lake across Minnesota. Often, they hitch a ride unobserved on boats and equipment. 

Jensen, a retired doctor, is part of a movement of citizens and local governments joining the effort to slow the spread of the unwanted plants and animals. Although he attended a training session sponsored by the state Department of Natural Resources, he has no authority as an inspector. His job is to educate.

  "I come down about every hour, hour and a half," Jensen said.

To help keep zebra mussels out of the lakes, township officials in Becker County have closed several public boat ramps to limit access to two lakes so it will be easier to inspect watercraft for invasive species.

On Tuesday, Jensen met Marty Kiebke of Detroit Lakes as he unloaded his jet ski at the only public access still open to Lake Melissa. Kiebke said he leaves the jet ski at a friend's cabin all summer. Since he doesn't move from lake to lake, he's not likely to spread invasive species like zebra mussels.  

The public access a few miles south of Detroit Lakes is now the only place for boaters to get in to Lake Melissa. Township officials recently closed seven longtime boat ramps on land owned by the township on Lake Melissa and nearby Lake Sallie.

Township supervisor Dave Knopf told Kiebke that the boat ramps were closed to protect the lakes from zebra mussels, which have infested Pelican Lake, about six miles away.

Clayton Jensen
Clayton Jensen, a retired doctor, places informational fliers in a stand near a recently closed lake access in Becker County, Minn. Jensen often volunteers his time to hand out the fliers at the only remaining open access on Lake Melissa.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

"We don't want those mussels in this lake," Knopf said. "We don't want to get like Pelican where people have to wear boots to get in the lake to swim. So if we can get everybody coming in and out of this one, we have a better chance to meet people and talk and educate. So that's our goal here."

Kebke agreed. "I heard they're really sharp and can slice you up pretty good," he said of the zebra mussels.

As Kiebke waded into the lake, Knopf and Jensen bemoaned the fact there aren't enough volunteers to keep the public access staffed all day. 

"The problem is getting people to commit time," Jensen said.

Jenson said there are more than 400 people living around Lake Melissa. But last summer only he and his son volunteered to work at the public access. 

"They're busy doing something else," he said. "It doesn't seem to concern them."

Knopf said he suspects people along the lake think elected officials will take care of the problem.

"I think maybe 30 or 40 years ago they would have had more people volunteering to step to the plate," Knopf said. "Anymore, you know, the world has gotten more passive in some ways and we like to place blame on government."

Jensen said he decided to invest so much time in the effort because he thinks fighting invasive species is important for Minnesota.

Lake access blocked
Township officials in Becker County placed large boulders on seven boat ramps to restrict access to Lake Melissa and Lake Sallie near Detroit Lakes. The ramps were closed to force boats to use a single access point. Officials say it's easier to monitor boats entering a single access for aquatic invasive species such as Eurasian water milfoil or zebra mussels.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

"If we're going to despoil our natural resources then I don't want to shoulder that blame," he said. "Just that simple."

Knopf, the township supervisor, is concerned that if zebra mussels infest the lake, lake property will be worth less, and that means fewer property tax dollars for the township to use on road maintenance.

"As a township we have an environmental reason and a financial reason to save the lakes for the recreational value," he said.

Knopf also worries that state DNR officials don't have the staff to watch all of the lake access points.

He wonders if the township will eventually need to hire inspectors, a cost he said property owners likely would need to pay.

The DNR is concentrating a lot of resources on inspecting boats leaving lakes already infested with invasive species. 

A DNR official said a growing number of citizens are expressing interest in volunteer training. The agency expects to train several hundred volunteer inspectors this year.