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Winter Won't Stop AIS Prevention Work in MN

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021   

CASS LAKE, Minn. - Minnesota boat owners have stored their watercraft for the winter. But in the coming weeks, some lakes will be getting new cleaning equipment, so when the ice thaws next spring, more people will have the tools to block big threats to lake habitat.

With a state grant, Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates is helping lake communities secure cleaning stations that boaters can use to scrub away aquatic invasive species. The grant program focuses on lakes infested with a certain threat, starry stonewort.

Kate Hagsten, plant resources program director for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, said they're poised to receive five stations by year's end. It comes amid concern about the impact of AIS on wild rice beds.

"Specifically, with starry stonewort," she said, "the habitat that it tends to exist within is the same habitat that's shared with wild rice, which is critical to the identity of the Ojibwe Nation."

Her team is working with University of Minnesota researchers to learn more about the effect starry stonewort is having on the habitat. It is considered difficult and expensive to manage, and can create ripple effects for fishing, boating and swimming. Program managers have said they're trying to quickly get these units to lakes considered high risk for infestation.

Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, said it's important to be proactive in setting up cleaning stations now, so lakes will be better protected when a new boating season begins. He noted that the AIS threat won't lose steam during the colder months.

"Starry stonewort grows under the ice, so it doesn't have a dormant period," he said. "It continues to spread during the winter."

This summer, he said, cleaning stations already set up at lakes around the country eclipsed the 1 million mark in terms of usage. He considers that a big milestone in encouraging boat owners to do their part to stop the spread of AIS. The $1 million grant for the program gets its funding from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

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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