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County, DNR work together to fight invasive species

County Land and Resource Director Bill Kalar. Tom Hintgen/otter Tail County Correspondent.

The Otter Tail County Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Task Force continues to take a proactive approach in stopping the spread of invasives throughout the county.

The task force already is making plans for summer 2018.

Two of the main enemies are Zebra Mussels which attach themselves to boats and Starry Stonewort which grows into dense mats than can cover surfaces of shallow water.

"We can't do it alone, and rely on support from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)," says County Land and Resource Director Bill Kalar who addressed the county board of commissioners on Jan. 23.

Kalar said there are better tracking systems on where boats have been and where they are going. That's important in the fight against invasive species.

To that end, County Commissioner Lee Rogness of Fergus Falls says it's imperative that county boat inspectors this summer have good communication with the DNR.

The county board passed two motions, one to increase funding for county public service announcements, billboards and other ways to inform the general public about invasive species.

Another motion that met county board approval on Jan. 23 provides funding for new magnetic sensors for electronic monitoring of boats at lake public accesses in various areas of Otter Tail County.

County commissioners welcome visitors during the summer months.

"At the same time, said Commissioner Doug Huebsch of Perham, "we want to drive home the point that our summer visitors make sure their boats are clean and free of invasive species."

County Board Chairman Wayne Johnson of Pelican Rapids said it's important that Otter Tail County work on the fight against invasive species with other counties that are members of the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) and Minnesota Inter-County Association (MICA).

Role of the AIS Task Force

County Land and Resource Director Bill Kalar and Marsha Bowman of the Land and Resource office have served as technical advisors since the inception of the AIS Task Force in 2013.

The task force, always looking for new ways to help fulfill its goal to limit the spread of AIS in Otter Tail County, is looking to expand its effort with decontamination of boats, motors, trailers and other water-related equipment.

This summer up to 30 people will be hired to assist with boat inspections and education of people throughout Otter Tail County.

Before leaving a lake, fishermen are required to drain water from boats, motors and livewells. Boat owners also are urged to perform water draining away from boat ramps.

The AIS Task Force, with approval of the county board, has expanded decontamination from one station to three stations. This will be done on a rotating basis among the 134 public lake accesses.

"We'll work in association with the DNR for permanent decontamination units in the county," said Spencer McGrew, Otter Tail County's Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force Specialist.

State funding will be available to help the AIS partnership expand in future months.

"The AIS partnership between Otter Tail County and the DNR is the first of its kind in the state of Minnesota," said McGrew.

Bernie Steeves, AIS Task Force chairman, previously told county commissioners that AIS is a serious problem, in light of tourism providing a strong economic benefit to Otter Tail County.

"Decontamination is not the silver bullet," said Steeves, also active with county lake associations. "However, it's one of the many tools that we need to stop the spread of AIS."