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DNR plans roadside checks to stop invasive species

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ST. PAUL - With zebra mussels and Eurasia milfoil spreading across the state, and other invaders likely on the way, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials on Friday said they will re-double their efforts to thwart the spread of aquatic invasive species.

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DNR officials said for the first time they will conduct random roadside checks in 2012 to stop the spread of species hitchhiking on trailers, boats and other vehicles. That will renew an old and often controversial enforcement tool once used to check for illegal fish and game and drunken drivers.

Agency heads also said they will use money approved by last year's Legislature to purchase 20 additional decontamination units to be posted at lakes and rivers infested with zebra mussels, with all boaters required to use the system before leaving the boat landing. The state already has been using three of the $15,000 units on popular but infested lakes, using 160-degree, high-pressure water to clean areas of boats where the invaders may stow away.

The DNR also is training 150 watercraft inspectors to be deployed around the state to interact with boaters as they launch and land their craft, both to educate boaters and to point out problems, such as weeds hanging from trailers or water left in livewells or bilges. Some of those

inspectors will have equipment to decontaminate boats and others will, for the first time, have authority to deny the boater access to the lake or river.

While the effort is aimed at stopping the spread of zebra mussels, most of the procedures used also will work to thwart most other invasive plants and

critters.

The increased focus on invasives comes after the DNR issued 840 warnings and citations in 2011, more than three times the 2010 level, for boaters who didn't follow state laws on cleaning and drain-ing their trailer and boat before heading home. Violators can face up to $500 fines, but DNR conser-vation officers found many people still weren't following new laws.

"In our efforts in 2011 we found an 18 percent violation rate. That's unacceptable. To stop the spread of invasive species we need to get to zero percent,'' said Col. Jim Konrad, the DNR's chief of enforcement. "This year we are really going to accelerate the effort. In the past, we focused on educa-tion and maybe issued more warnings. But warnings are going to come to an end. It's time to step up and take action."

Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner, said the agency can't be everywhere boaters go and asked the public to police themselves.

"The DNR can't stop the spread of invasive species. We need everyone to participate in this ef-fort,'' Landwehr said Friday.

Luke Skinner, the DNR's invasive species coordinator, said the focus on anglers, boaters and other individuals comes in addition to efforts aimed at Great Lakes shipping and Mississippi River move-ment of invasive species into the state, such as fish-killing VHS disease and leaping Asian carp.

"This is one part of a larger effort,'' Skinner said. "We're still working on ballast water regula-tions... and on barriers for carp. But we can't ignore the problem of all of us spreading species we already have here."

DNR officials also outlined new state laws that require people or businesses that move docks or other items in and out of lakes to be held responsible for not moving invasive species. The state's two most recent zebra mussel infestations occurred when docks and lifts were moved to a lake and came with mussels attached. Companies that deal with moving items in and out of waterways will need mandatory training and DNR permits. And agency officials announced a major new public relations campaign including decals and a new video on the issue of invasive species.

Some anglers and tourism industry interests have said the DNR's efforts could anger the state's 800,000 boaters and tourists who come to enjoy the state's lakes. But Dave Zentner, Duluth angler and conservation activist, predicted most anglers will put up with the added inconvenience of clean-ing their boats - and of being stopped and checked - to help protect their favorite lake or river.

"The value of the assets (lakes and rivers) we have that are still uncontaminated is well worth any effort we make now,'' Zentner said. "The public's reaction at boat landings has been pretty good. I think most people realize what's at stake here; what our lakes mean to Minnesota."

Doug Jensen, aquatic invasive species expert at Duluth-based Minnesota Sea Grant, said the stepped-up effort will help. Because many of the species may take multiple small introductions be-fore a population can take hold and grow in a new waterway, "you don't have to stop every introduc-tion. Just reducing introductions can help,"' Jensen said.

The announcement came at the DNR's annual "round-table'' convention that draws activists from the fishing, hunting, conservation and other outdoor communities.

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