'Pick it up': New Minnesota law aims to curb litter left on ice

Trash collected on a frozen lake
Minnesota DNR conservation officer Brent Grewe collected this trash on March 3, 2021, from the ice on Medicine Lake in Hennepin County.
Courtesy of Minnesota DNR 2021

Anglers headed out on the ice this winter should be aware of a new state law that aims to keep lakes clean. 

The law, which took effect July 1, requires all trash to be placed in a container that’s secured to an ice house or vehicle. That includes beverage containers, cigarette butts and fish remains.

“We don’t want people leaving that directly on the ice,” said Maj. Robert Gorecki, operations manager of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ enforcement division. “Number one, it can blow away. Number two, people tend to forget about that type of stuff.”

Garbage left behind on the ice is one of the biggest complaints conservation officers hear every year, Gorecki said.

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“The problem before was that even if we saw trash outside a house, as long as that house was occupied and those people were still present, we couldn’t take enforcement action,” he said.

In the springtime, conservation officers and lakeshore property owners routinely find beer cans, pop bottles and cardboard — and most concerning, human waste. Many newer ice houses have a septic tank, Gorecki said.

“Unfortunately, sometimes some of these people release that sewage onto the ice before they leave, which of course is a very significant environmental and health hazard,” he said.

The new law gives conservation officers the ability to educate people first, and take enforcement action when necessary, he said. Violating the law is a petty misdemeanor and could result in a civil penalty of $100.

“It really gives us some new tools in our tool belt to make sure the public is picking up after themselves,” Gorecki said. “We can directly address that with them while we’re out there on the ice talking to them about fishing or other activities, and make sure that they pick it up while we’re there.”