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Cass County: Public inspections key to fighting AIS

Boat inspections and public education that Cass County and its residents have used to fight the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) appears to be the right approach. Association of Cass County Lakes (ACCL) members convened their fall meeting...

Boat inspections and public education that Cass County and its residents have

used to fight the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) appears to be the right approach.

Association of Cass County Lakes (ACCL) members convened their fall meeting Friday morning, Sept. 25, at the Hackensack Senior Center to share information about what each member lake association has been doing this summer to prevent AIS spread.

State Sen. Tom Saxhaug and Rep. Tom Anzelc also attended to learn about how the

county used its state AIS grant.

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Rima Smith-Keprios, Cass County AIS specialist, reported there have been no new AIS lake infestations this summer. The public access inspections have been a key to this success, she said.

Vic Rinke, moderator for the meeting and a Woman Lake Association board member, reported boaters indicated in a survey taken this summer the most common way boaters learned about state AIS laws and best prevention methods was through education inspectors gave them and from signs/billboards.

Cass County received $450,000 from the state in 2015. Of that, Smith-Keprios said the county designated $306,000 to hire 27 DNR-trained inspectors to check boats at public landings. Some of the rest of Cass' state and local money went: to buy supplies for inspectors; for RMB Environmental Laboratories to do 48 lake assessments; to install car counters at 19 lakes; to have the dive team check lake bottoms for invasive species; to do a plant inventory on Gull Lake; to inspect boats for fishing tournaments and a regatta on Leech Lake; to set up boat

decontamination sites; to hire off-duty law enforcement to inspect boats; and for signs.

The county had printed some public information handouts for resorts to distribute to guests.

"Having this (state) funding at the county level has helped so much," Smith-Keprios told the

legislators. "It makes a huge difference."

Pat Welle, Bemidji State University professor and economic and environmental specialist,

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worked with Cass County resort owners and managers to help them control accesses on their private landings and to educate their customers on AIS.

He plans to work next with resort owners who are not resort association members and with owners in planned unit developments who share a private lake access. Resort owners say their guests admit not knowing enough about AIS best practices, Welle said. About three-fourths of their guests bring their own boat, he said, though they report hopping among multiple lakes less than expected.

Rinke said Cass' inspection program has relied on a lot of lake resident volunteers in addition to the DNR-trained paid volunteers to make Cass County's program successful.

The county began its program in 2013 when the county board and the soil and water conservation district adopted an invasive species prevention plan, according to Jerry Lerom, ACCL president.

Lake associations and some townships donated $23,000 that first year toward implementing

the plan. Public landing inspections started with that funding and volunteer inspectors, Lerom

said. State funding has now expanded the inspection/education program.

"Law enforcement isn't the answer to everything," Rinke said. "It takes responsible people."

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Lake service providers who install and remove boats, lifts and docks from lakes now are trained and check equipment as they move it, Rinke said.

Holly Ash, whose family has owned and operated New Leech Lake Campground by Federal

Dam for 33 years, said they have multiple boats putting into Leech Lake daily, so inspections are very important.

There are 57 resorts in the Boy River chain of lakes running from Ten Mile Lake to Leech Lake, she said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Federal Dam boat landing sees 2,500 boats launched into Leech Lake each summer, Ash said. She asked for more decontamination stations, so they will

be located closer to lake landing sites. Mille Lacs and other infested lakes should all be required to decontaminate all boats exiting the infested water, Ash said.

She emphasized the number of people who rely on tourism in this area for their jobs, not only in direct employment at resorts or campgrounds, but also in cities around the lakes area. When the walleye population in Leech Lake declined, many businesses closed, she said, calling for a

stop to AIS to prevent a repeat impact on the local economy.

Rinke said 3,500 people in Cass County rely on resorts for their jobs. Bob Holman, representing Crooked Lake Township at Outing, said lake associations there began their AIS inspection program before the county, in 2012, using lake association and township funds.

That is the only Cass township today offering its own decontamination site with help from lake associations and county. It is open to the public. Crooked Lake area's program inspected 1,200 boats the first year and expects to inspect 2,000 this year.

They have purchased radio advertising, had banners mounted on a trailer to move around the

township and sent letters to lake property owners. They put traffic counters at their public landings in 2014 and have inspectors at landings this year 10 hours a day Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Washburn Lake Association spent $2,200 this summer to keep milfoil in check. Lake homeowners are keeping about an 18-inch long PVC pipe tied to the end of their docks that is

dropped to within a few inches of the lake bottom as an early warning check for any potential

zebra mussels. Early treatment so far is the only treatment being done.

Bob Iverson, Ten Mile Lake Association board member, reported that lake association also began its inspection program in 2012, to implement a 2011 AIS plan. Their volunteer inspectors began educating the public at their public landings, but the association also purchased a solar-powered camera for the landings.

A motion sensor on the camera activates a message to boaters to check their own boat before launching 24 hours a day. That way, Iverson said, their launch site provides information to landing users even when inspectors cannot be there.

This summer, Ten Mile Lake had trained inspectors on site 160 hours per month, he said.

They have paid and volunteer inspectors.

Saxhaug said he appreciated the Cass County and lake association commitments to fighting aquatic invasive species. He also said he understands the impact changes to any ecosystem can make to the surrounding economy. Saxhaug said he believes zebra mussels are a big part of the problem at Lake Mille Lacs today.

The current state law allocates invasive species fighting money to counties based on the number of public landings and parking spaces for those, Saxhaug explained.

Any additional money likely would have to come through a tax state bill, which Anzelc predicted would be difficult to pass in the House.

John Sumption, area environmental consultant and former county environmental director,

reported application has been made to the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for more AIS inspector training and, through Mississippi Headwaters Board to the council, for an enhanced AIS awareness media campaign.

If the council approves those applications, final approval would be required from the Legislature.

Sidebar box:

Jerry Lerom, Association of Cass County Lakes president, proposes to send a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton, asking the state to make the following changes to aquatic invasive species laws and rules:

1. Implement AIS violation fines comparable to those for big game poaching.

2. Make lake access inspections mandatory.

3. Add a clause on "prevention" to DNR mission statement.

4. Require decontamination at some named lakes.

5. Make inspections mandatory for fishing tournaments.

Related Topics: CASS COUNTY
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