Permanent carp protection moves toward reality in DL watershed

Efforts to install a permanent barrier to keep carp in the Pembina River watershed from crossing a small divide into the Devils Lake drainage have cleared a major hurdle with the signing of landowner easements that will allow construction to begi...

Efforts to install a permanent barrier to keep carp in the Pembina River watershed from crossing a small divide into the Devils Lake drainage have cleared a major hurdle with the signing of landowner easements that will allow construction to begin sometime this summer.

According to Lynn Schlueter, special projects biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake, easements with the nine affected landowners have been signed and filed in Cavalier County. Next up, he said, is obtaining a construction permit from the State Water Commission, a process he described as a "formality."

He said the department already has a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after providing assurance the work won't have a negative impact on existing wetlands.

Schlueter said the Game and Fish Department will fund the five-year easements, which are based on existing cash-rental rates, and pay for constructing the barrier to keep carp from getting into the Devils Lake watershed.

The invasive carp, he said, would compete with game fish species such as walleye, northern pike and perch in Devils Lake.


"It would be a disaster for that fish ecosystem -- and waterfowl, too -- so that's what we're trying to avoid," Schlueter said. "Carp are just a plain ugly deal for the ecosystem."

Prairie trail

Ground zero in this battle to keep carp at bay is a small divide, basically a prairie trail, near Loma, N.D., southwest of Langdon, which separates Snowflake Creek in the Pembina River watershed from Edmore Coulee on the Devils Lake side of the divide.

"It's not much of a trail, and it's just above the swamp water -- and we're talking by inches," Schlueter said.

The only other protection is a wall of cattails where the watersheds meet.

According to Schlueter, the project will involve raising the prairie trail road about 3 feet and making it wide enough to accommodate large farm equipment. The entire barrier, Schlueter said, will be about one-eighth mile long.

Once the State Water Commission approves the construction permit, Schlueter said, Game and Fish will open the project to bids

"It's really not going to take that long to construct," he said. "It will be high and dry."


Schlueter said players in the project will meet annually to discuss issues and concerns. And after five years, he said, they'll look at whether to continue the program or explore other solutions.

"This isn't a 99-year thing," Schlueter said. "This is for five years."

Lengthy process

Efforts to keep carp out of Devils Lake date back to November 2004. And in 2005, the state Water Commission, along with local water and tourism groups, funded a $20,000 study to determine the exact location of the divide and the impact any permanent protections would have on downstream interests.

According to Schlueter, a main concern among landowners was that a permanent barrier would make their property more susceptible to flooding during heavy rainfall events or other times of high flow.

The easements, he said, will help address that impact.

"It's a concern -- that's their livelihood," Schlueter said. "We had some really good work with the landowners to figure out just what was needed and how to make it work for everybody's best interests."

Schlueter said the department, along with other players including the Cavalier and Ramsey county water boards and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, invested a lot of time coming up with a plan that would protect Devils Lake and still be agreeable to landowners.


"We think this is a strong win-win for the local community, the landowners, both county water boards and the Devils Lake fishery," Schlueter said.

Without permanent protection, the Game and Fish Department for the past several years has relied on a drip station that disperses rotenone, a chemical that has helped keep the carp in the Pembina River basin. The discovery of a single carp in 2007 on the Devils Lake side of the divide prompted concern, but extensive testing produced no more of the voracious rough fish.

And now, Schlueter said, a permanent solution to the threat is within reach, despite some difficult moments along the way.

"There have been some hard feelings, absolutely, but everybody has worked for a compromise," Schlueter said. "We've got carp to the north, no carp south and we want to keep it that way."

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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