Preventing Aquatic Invasive Species
COOK COUNTY, MINNESOTA - May 6, 2019 (LSN) Minnesota’s fishing opener is around the corner and in Cook County that means open water season will be here soon! For many people summer equals being on or near the water by enjoying boating, canoeing, camping, or fishing. For the Cook County Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Program, summer also means taking the time to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species while recreating on the water.
By now, you might know all about Minnesota’s most despised invasives: Zebra Mussels, Eurasian milfoil, and Starry Stonewort. You might even know how devastating these species are to the lake ecosystems and the local economy when they invade. So far, Cook County has escaped infestation from these major aquatic invaders. However, we are not off the hook because Lake Superior hosts over 20 species of aquatic invasives. These species could easily hop a ride to inland waters on a fishing boat. Spiny waterfleas and rusty crayfish have established themselves in several lakes and it is the AIS program’s priority to prevent further spread of these unwanted species.
In 2014, Cook County formed an AIS Task Force and submitted an AIS prevention plan to the Department of Natural Resources to receive the State’s AIS prevention aid. In 2015, the AIS program hired an AIS coordinator to manage the program. Since Cook County is fortunate not to have the MN lake killers zebra mussels, Eurasian milfoil, or starry stonewort the AIS plan has been able to focus on individual interactions for education of prevention methods. The most effective program to conduct these interactions is through watercraft inspections.
Friendly Watercraft Inspectors in their bright vests are stationed throughout the county at public landings during the summer. You might even be fortunate enough to interact with a Sheriff’s Deputy at the landing on your fishing day. These happy faces are there to help you learn and follow the AIS prevention methods when entering and exiting the water. They will ask you a few questions and make sure the watercraft is clear from plants and the plugs are out. If you are saving live bait, they will also remind you to empty lake water from the container and transfer to tap water brought in advance. It is illegal to transport lake or river water. Many inspectors store tap water in their vehicle to assist in keeping bait.
Educating the public and children is the next program priority. AIS staff visits the County’s schools using interactive games to educate kids on how and why it is important to Clean. Drain. Dry! The kids then go home to teach their families the importance of AIS prevention techniques.
The AIS program ties these one-on-one interactions with a marketing and outreach plan. You will see posters, billboards, and many other AIS materials in businesses throughout the County. If you are strolling downtown in Grand Marais this summer, you might spot an AIS staff member wearing a rusty crayfish hat next to a table with AIS freebies, preserved species, and interactive games.
County AIS staff along with the Forest Service, Soil & Water Conservation District, 1854 Treaty Authority, MN Department of Natural Resources, and MN Pollution Control Agency collaborates to survey lakes for AIS. Many lake association members volunteer to monitor for Spiny Waterfleas and Rusty Crayfish, too. Partnerships in the wonderful world of AIS prevention make this job more meaningful. We are all fortunate to be able to make an impact in preserving the natural state of our waterways.
Preventing invasive species from invading is a never-ending process and species do not consider county boundaries. Everybody reading this is lucky to live and play in the Arrowhead and with a few behavior changes at the lake, we can all keep the Northwoods pristine for our children’s grandchildren.
By: Amanda Weberg, Cook County Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator
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