Taking AIM at AIS: Invasive species are on the doorstep in Bemidji
BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Lake Bemidji and the other lakes within a long cast of Bemidji are free of aquatic invasive species -- at least for now.
The same cannot be said, however, of some of the lakes that Bemidji-area anglers regularly visit.
Last summer, officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sampled the waters of Lake Winnibigoshish, and tests conducted on those samples during the winter revealed the presence of zebra mussel veligers.
About a decade ago, Eurasian milfoil was located in a few harbors on Leech Lake, and the aggressive plant has since established itself within the main lake. Leech Lake also is home to the rusty crayfish and curly leaf pondweed.
Faucet snails have found their way to First and Second Crow Wing lakes in Hubbard County, and a variety of aquatic invaders, including Eurasian watermilfoil, the spiny water flea and the zebra mussel, have infiltrated Lake Mille Lacs.
The spiny waterflea is also present in Lake of the Woods and in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area lakes.
"We've been fortunate," said Bemidji Area DNR Fisheries Supervisor Gary Barnard. "In this area, we have not had any serious instances with invasive species.
"We have some rusty crayfish, curly pondweed, spiny waterfleas, zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil in the area," Barnard continued. "We're not in a panic mode, but they are concerns and we are trying to be somewhat proactive in our invasive species prevention programs."
Prevention programs include educating the public about the effects aquatic invasive species have on waterways. With the help of boat inspectors working the public accesses on Lake Bemidji and other area lakes, DNR officials are spreading the word about AIS and the corresponding dangers.
Some of the inspectors have been hired by the DNR while others, including members of the Turtle River Watershed Association, are volunteers who believe that educating the public is the best way to slow the spread of AIS.
The TRWA volunteers manned the accesses on Big Turtle Lake and Lake Beltrami during the Memorial Day holiday, and they are expected to return to those locations this summer.
Boaters at many of the other area lake accesses, including Lake Bemidji, can expect to be visited by the DNR inspectors.
The inspectors will be looking for water in the livewell or in bait buckets, water in the bottom of the boat, plugs that have not been removed and any vegetation that may be clinging to the boat, the trailer, the motor and the equipment.
"There are a number of ways that invasive species can be transferred," Barnard said. "All it takes is a fragment of a plant. A virus and zebra mussels only need a little bit of water.
"It only takes one guy doing the wrong thing," Barnard continued. "People need to think about what can happen if they do not take proper precautions."
Laws and enforcement
The best way to slow the spread of AIS is to make sure current populations remain where they are. And Minnesota DNR officials have established guidelines and laws to help in that effort.
According to state regulations, a person leaving waters of the state must drain all water from the equipment, including bait containers, livewells and bilges, by removing the drain plug before transporting the watercraft.
Drain plugs, bailers, valves or other devices used to control the draining of water from ballast tanks, bilges and livewells also must be removed or opened while transporting watercraft.
Current state law also prohibits transportation of all aquatic plants (with a few exceptions). Under state law, it is unlawful to:
• Transport aquatic plants, except as allowed in statutes ($100 civil penalty or misdemeanor).
• Transport zebra mussels and other prohibited species of animals ($500 civil penalty or misdemeanor).
• Place or attempt to place into waters of the state a boat, seaplane or trailer that has aquatic plants ($200 civil penalty), zebra mussels or other prohibited invasive species attached ($500 civil penalty or misdemeanor).