Minnesota looks for invasive species battle plan
ST. PAUL -- Winter is setting in, giving soldiers on the front line of the Asian carp war a few months to form and implement a battle plan.
"We have a brief window of time," Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday as he wrapped up a second summit dealing with invasive species.
With locks up and down the Mississippi River closing for the winter, carp will not be able to move north.
However, the governor pointed out one of the major problems: "We don't even have a consensus among ourselves about how to proceed."
While some urged the group Dayton called together to look into other invading species, such as zebra mussels, talk centered on Asian carp, giant fish that eat so much that native species have little left. Silver carp, one type of Asian carp, are the ones that famously jump out of the water and sometimes hit boaters.
"We've got to act," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told a Capitol meeting room full of people ranging from environmentalists to politicians, from federal officials to anglers.
Dayton demanded quick action. By the time the problem is thoroughly studied and a battle plan written, "the carp are in Canada," he said.
Attention centered on the Mississippi River and its tributaries, although researchers revealed that carp have been found in a northern Iowa lake that could mean they may spread to southern Minnesota and north to the Red River.
Much of the debate centered on whether to build something to stop the fish, no one knows just what, in the northwestern Twin Cities, Minneapolis, Hastings or Iowa.
Asian carp DNA has been found in the Twin Cities, both in the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, so some advocate putting a barrier at the Coon Rapids dam in the northwestern Twin Cities to prevent them from going further north, where much of the tourism economy depends on fish.
However, Dayton said, when a planned dam improvement is supposed to be completed in 2014, it could be too late.
Others say that stopping the invasive fish in the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois could prevent a larger invasion. Still others claim that a barrier near Hastings, where the St. Croix dumps into the Mississippi, would help the most.
Gary Botzek, representing environmental and other organizations, said the carp fight must move south.
"If we let them get to Coon Rapids, the battle is over," he said. "We have got to stop them in Iowa."
Experts do not agree on what kind of a barrier to use. The most discussed barrier uses bubbles to scare the carp, but that only has undergone small-scale tests.
Tim Schlagenhaft of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said that it may not be possible to protect a major Mississippi tributary, the Minnesota River. However, he did say that some are looking into narrowing part of the river to install a barrier there.
Schlagenhaff, co-chairman of a task force Dayton ordered to produce a list of recommendations next month, said the carp fight faces lots of hurdles.
"A lot of them are funding challenges," he said.
On the federal level, for instance, the Army Corps of Engineers has permission, but not the money, to build a carp barrier in one of its locks. St. Paul District Commander Col. Michael Price told the group that he would allow another governmental entity to provide a barrier for one of his locks, but no one accepted the offer Friday.
Closing locks for more than just the winter would prevent carp from moving upstream, but that would take the difficult-to-obtain congressional approval.
The issue affects nearly all of Minnesota because streams across most of the state connect to the Mississippi. Lake Superior also faces possible carp problems, both from Minnesota streams and from other Great Lakes.
Dayton said the Legislature may need to approve funding or change existing laws to fight the carp, but no Republican leaders involved in the issue were at his Friday meeting. Some key Democratic lawmakers did attend.
"Preventing this invasion is not a partisan issue," he said, adding that he did not know why no Republicans were there or even if they were invited.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.