Wright County a pioneer in fight against invasives

Local lakeshore owners proposed trying the strategy last year after starry stonewort was found in the Sylvia lakes.

BUFFALO, Minn. — Wright County is getting tough on threats to its lakes from aquatic invasive species, becoming the first county in Minnesota to require inspections of boats and trailers before they enter the water.

The initiative will affect boats launched into four lakes — East and West Sylvia, John and Pleasant. The inspections and decontamination will take place at a single station, in Annandale, rather than at individual lake accesses, in an effort to make it more cost-effective. Inspectors will place zip ties on trailers that pass. Trailers at the four lakes found without zip ties would be subject to citation.

While the mandate will apply to only four lakes, the pilot program is being watched nationwide, said Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates.

“This pilot, if successful, would make Minnesota a leader in AIS activities in the nation,” Forester told The Star Tribune. “With close to 900,000 registered watercraft and 3,000-plus public accesses, it’s difficult to cover every access. This is a step toward a solution.”

About 5 percent of the state’s lakes are infested with species such as zebra mussels, Eurasian milfoil and starry stonewort. Experts say that once the invaders arrive, they’re difficult if not impossible to eradicate. So state and local officials emphasize prevention through equipment inspections and decontamination to make sure that boaters don’t spread the invaders from lake to lake.

The Minnesota Legislature authorized regional inspection and decontamination programs in 2012, but no local government had submitted a plan before Wright County. Local lakeshore owners proposed trying the strategy last year after starry stonewort was found in the Sylvia lakes. Starry stonewort is an algae that forms thick mats and can clog boat motors.

The Minnesota DNR is keenly interested in Wright County’s effort, said Heidi Wolf, supervisor of the agency’s Invasive Species Program.

“We definitely support counties and local governments and tribes being part of the AIS solution,” Wolf said Thursday. “I don’t think any one agency or group can solve this problem on its own.”

The Wright County Board approved the plan late last month. While the DNR must sign off on it, county officials expect that to happen by the end of July.

Once the program gets underway, inspectors will be at the Annandale station every day 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset, said Alicia O’Hare, a water resource specialist with the Wright Soil and Water Conservation District. She said the station should be able to handle four boats at once, minimizing wait times. The county hopes to have it up and running soon after the DNR gives its final approval, she said.

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