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Proposals Floated in MN to Help with Aquatic Invasive Species

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Starry stonewort, first detected in Minnesota in 2015, is among the aquatic invasive species the state is trying to contain. (Adobe Stock)
Starry stonewort, first detected in Minnesota in 2015, is among the aquatic invasive species the state is trying to contain. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN - Producer, Contact
January 29, 2021

ST. PAUL, Minn. - As efforts continue to protect Minnesota's vast network of lakes and rivers from invasive species, some proposals to build on the state's response are getting attention.

In his new budget plan, Gov. Tim Walz is asking for a slight increase in a watercraft registration fee - rounding up from $10.60 to an even $11. That fund goes toward aquatic invasive-species management.

The administration has said the change would address processing headaches after a separate hike was enacted in 2019. And it would add some more dedicated funding to the effort.

Jeff Forester, director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, said he thinks the dollar amount should be even higher.

"I think it should be $15," said Forester. "And then that would provide reliable and ongoing funding for the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center."

He said researchers would worry less about funding, and instead keep their focus on the science.

Meanwhile the current plan would enhance annual funding by just more than $100,000.

A key House Democrat has said he supports higher fees. But it's unclear if Senate Republicans will go along, given their opposition to other parts of the governor's budget plan, including a tax hike.

Also, there's a House bill that would add climate-change language to the state's invasive-species management plan.

That bill received a committee hearing this week, where some Republican lawmakers questioned the need, noting that the Department of Natural Resources already has a climate-change focus.

But assistant DNR Commissioner Bob Meyer said the agency backs the idea, noting there's still a lot to learn.

"Certainly," said Meyer, "the changing climate and warming waters and not-cold-enough winters have huge impacts on our invasive species."

Naomi Blinick of the University of Minnesota's Conservation Sciences graduate program told the committee that while the state has a robust response in this area, adding the climate-change language could address any unevenness.

"It really provides clear direction to the DNR and state agencies and eliminates any ambiguity about whether or not it's something that needs to be considered," said Blinick.

The committee held the measure over to be possibly included in an omnibus bill.

Disclosure: Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Public Lands/Wilderness, Sustainable Agriculture, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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