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WAPOA hears from zebra mussels expert, water issues lobbyist

The transparency of the Whitefish Chain is dropping by one inch per year, members of the Whitefish Area Property Owners Association (WAPOA) learned at their annual meeting Saturday, June 7, at Ideal Town Hall.

John Forney, trustee for the Land & Waters Preservation Trust, noted that this trend correlates with a tremendous rise in Crow Wing County's population, up 41 percent between the 1990 and 2010 censuses. This figure does not account for tourists and seasonal visitors, who have also come in much larger numbers over the same time period.

"If that (loss in transparency) continues, our grandchildren won't be able to walk to the end of the dock and see the bottom of the lake," Forney said.

The Land & Waters Preservation Trust began last year as a way to provide long-term funding for area lake preservation through WAPOA, the largest lake association in Minnesota. Forney reported that the trust currently holds $120,148, thanks in part to a $50,000 match from the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls.

The organization's goal is to raise $1 million for the trust over the next five years. The principle would stay in the fund indefinitely, and the earnings from investments would be used to fund various water-minded initiatives.

"If you really want to make sure this unique area stays unique for years to come, we need the money," Forney said.

Joe Brodil, the association's director of aquatic invasive species (AIS) and watercraft inspection, gave members an update on the organization's efforts to staff accesses with inspectors to prevent the spread of AIS. WAPOA monitors seven public accesses on the Whitefish Chain - Crosslake Southwest, Trout, Lower Hay, Crosslake campgrounds, Upper Whitefish (Delta Bay) and Clamshell. The inspectors are a combination of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) inspectors, inspectors paid by WAPOA and volunteers.

Brodil said if all the accesses were staffed May 15 through Labor Day from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., a total of 7,700 hours would be needed. Between 370 hours from DNR-paid inspectors, 1,500 hours from WAPOA-paid inspectors and 295 volunteer hours, the organization is meeting 28 percent of the hours needed.

This shortfall is due in part to the DNR's reduced share, which can be attributed to the organization attending to an increased number of lakes and dealing with a further spread of AIS, all with the same budget.

Brodil noted that Camp Foley in Pine River agreed to donate 100 hours of inspections and will be taking along campers.

"I think that's a great way to teach our young people good lake stewardship," he said.

Mike McCartney, assistant research professor at the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC) at the University of Minnesota, shared the latest research on zebra mussels. He said the research is currently focused on identifying the sources of various populations to better understand prevention techniques.

Despite sharing some sobering statistics - a 1-inch female zebra mussel can produce one million eggs in a single season, a 50-75 percent drop of phyto- and zooplankton biomass is common in infestation areas - McCartney noted that it is "not true that it's just a matter of time that all lakes will be invaded."

Although Minnesota's infestation is on an upward trend, the state is still one of the least infested in the region. Michigan is by far the most affected.

The Minnesota Legislature took several actions this session that affect water issues, including establishing AIS prevention aid from the general fund.

Henry Erdman, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, said these will be direct payments to help on the local level and will be based upon each county's share of watercraft trailer launches.

This amounts to an estimated $25,000 of aid in 2014 for the Whitefish Chain and an additional $56,000 in 2015.

Erdman said the Legislature also secured funding for MAISRC in the bonding bill, amounting to $8.6 million for updates to research labs at the facility. A new law also requires bait dealers to receive training in AIS.

WAPOA President Tom Watson said the organization and everyone who loves a lake in Minnesota face numerous challenges, but he felt optimistic about some of the steps state government took this year.

"Mother Earth has been good to us all these years, but let's not take advantage of that anymore," he said. "This whole area needs all of us pulling the reins together."

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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