For those Lake County anglers that braved the windy, frigid temperatures of Minnesota’s fishing opener, might have met up with someone encouraging them to inspect their boats for aquatic invasive species and handing out blue towels.
Lake County Soil and Water Conservation district is handing out towels in an effort to build awareness and combat the spread of AIS in Lake Superior or any of the many other lakes in the county. The state provides money to prevent the spread of AIS to all 87 counties in the state and Lake County chose SWCD to implement its own individual AIS plan.
The blue towels are just one of the ways SWCD is working to prevent the spread of AIS in the county’s lakes and along the shore of Lake Superior, according to Derrick Passe, SWCD AIS coordinator. The plan is to try to build awareness with boat owners about AIS and working with them to provide education about AIS prevention instead of mandating it through fines and citations.
“I plan to use them as a reward to people,” Passe said. “You’re doing the right thing, you care, and you’re helping us? I tell people, it’s not the aquatic invasives that spread themselves, it’s people that do it. The only way to stop that is to educate people.”
SWCD staff and volunteers will be concentrating on three areas of the county including the Fernberg Road corridor near Ely, lakes in Superior National Forest near Isabella and Finland and along the shore of Lake Superior. SWCD has an intern this summer that will be working boat launches along Fernberg Road, encouraging boaters to “clean, drain, dry” when removing watercraft from lakes. The intern will be trained to do boat inspections, but Lake County has chose to encourage boat owners to comply instead of ticketing violators.
“You have to be nice to people,” Passe said.
In that vein, SWCD is also working with local law enforcement agencies. If a boat owner is pulled over and found to be in violation of regulations governing cleaning and inspection of boats, SWCD has asked local law enforcement agencies to write more warning tickets in the hope that raised awareness will do more to combat AIS than citations and fines.
“We just want people to work with us, so we’re also willing to work with them,” Passe said.
SWCD is also encouraging boat owners to fill out small yellow tags and attach them to the bolt on the front of boats indicating who the boat was cleaned by, where it was drained and how long the boat has been dry. When the boat is returned to the water, the tag can be removed and thrown in the trash or boaters can send the tag back to SWCD and be entered into a drawing later this year. The tags are especially helpful at area resorts when boats are coming in from all over the state and resort management has no other way to know where the boat has been or when it was last cleaned.
“Our goal is that every boat in Lake County going down the road has this tag on the front of the boat, so it’s easy to see where a boat is coming from when it pulls into a resort,” Passe said. “Resort owners are basically playing Russian Roulette. Where has this boat been, has it been inspected?”
The are three main AIS species found in Lake County that SWCD is trying to prevent the spread of. The rusty crayfish, the spiny water flea — a small parasite that eats an important food source for native Minnesota fish — and the curly leaf pondweed, which Passe said the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources considers “mostly naturalized” at this point, but he hopes to continue to fight the plant’s spread in Lake County.
“Curly leaf pondweed is only in one lake in Lake County,” he said. “I think we have a chance of staying ahead of it.”
Passe also emphasized the importance of cleaning and checking canoes and kayaks in addition to motorized boats. SWCD will be stressing the importance of checking non-motorized craft during the Great American Canoe Festival June 10-12 in Ely. Not only will SWCD have an information table and a presentation at the festival, it will also set up a decontamination station during the canoe race.
“Take the time to stop and look at your canoe and make sure you’re not spreading invasive species,” Passe said. “I think they’ll also appreciate a five or 10 minute break in the middle of a 2.5 mile portage.”
To get the little yellow tags that will be used for the Sept. 30 drawing, contact the SWCD and they will deliver them anywhere in Lake County.