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Minnesota vows to get tough on invasive species

ST. PAUL Minnesota plans to crack down on boaters, anglers and waterfront landowners who transport non-native invasive species among the state's cherished waters. Officials with the Department of Natural Resources on Friday announced a major incr...

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ST. PAUL

Minnesota plans to crack down on boaters, anglers and waterfront landowners who transport non-native invasive species among the state's cherished waters.

Officials with the Department of Natural Resources on Friday announced a major increase in action -- including roadside checkpoints for motorists hauling boats and piers -- as well as a change in attitude about consequences.

"Warnings are going to come to an end," said Col. Jim Konrad, the agency's head of enforcement. "It's time to step up and get people's attention. I have instructed our officers that the appropriate action to take if there's a violation is to write a citation."

Last year, the DNR stepped up its enforcement around certain waterborne invasives, most notably zebra mussels, but Konrad said Friday that it wasn't enough.

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In 2011, the DNR tripled its number of citations and warnings, Konrad said. Often, a warning was all that was issued for a motorist who was, for example, transporting a boat without its drain plug removed, as the law requires. Fines might not have been levied, but the DNR still tracked the data, he said, and the data showed an unacceptably lax public.

"Some of these laws have been on the books for 15 years," Konrad said. "We found an 18 percent violation rate. That's unacceptable."

Zebra mussels, which can cling to boats, trailers and docks and live in live wells and bait buckets, are increasingly infesting popular Minnesota lakes. The filter feeders remove microscopic

nutrients from the water, altering the chemistry of a lake and crowding out native species.

The march of the small mollusks from lake to lake -- almost exclusively by human transport, unintentional or not -- has continued for years, to the frustrations of wildlife officials, anglers and lake lovers.

Last year, the DNR set up a handful of decontamination stations at popular boat launches. This year, that will expand, as the DNR adds 20 portable decontamination units and hires almost 150 trained inspectors, many of whom will have the authority to prevent contaminated boats from being launched into waters.

The roadside checkpoints will be a major change for boaters around infested lakes. Konrad said the effort will entail officers essentially flagging motorists to pull over to a staging area, where boats will be inspected and motorists will be questioned as to where the boat was launched before it was transported.

If necessary, officers will write tickets and inspectors will decontaminate the vessel.

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"We're not going to stop an interstate highway and check every boater going north on a Friday," he said. "We want to start small and target waters either that are infested or that we don't want to be infested."

Konrad said township roads leading to popular boat launches are likely areas for checkpoints.

He said the agency will start "as soon as the ice goes out in the spring." In addition, the agency is stepping up requirements for companies that transport docks, requiring permitting and training for every employee.

In the fall, the small mollusks were discovered on Lake Irene in Douglas County and Rose Lake in Otter Tail County, both following installation of boat lifts that had been in infested waters.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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