County AIS Prevention Aid is Protecting Lakes from Aquatic Invasive Species​

The impacts of AIS;  the loss of recreational opportunities, the impacts to businesses and way of life, and the mitigation expense are all borne locally.  The waters are public but the costs of protecting that public benefit are often private.

Mille Lacs, infested with Eurasian water millfoil, spiny water flea and zebra mussel is the best example of the devastation that multiple AIS can wreak not only on a lake, but on the communities and businesses dependent on that lake.  Lake Koronis, where starry stonewort has made lake access impossible in many areas is the latest example. Almost $400,000 has been spent so far trying to mitigate that infestation. The costs to local businesses, tourism and property value reducions are just beginning to be calculated.

For these reasons the MN Legislature created the County AIS Prevention Aid program in 2014.

This standing appropriation comes directly from the MN Department of Revenue to Minnesota’s counties and is apportioned based on the number of boat ramps and watercraft parking spots in each county:

  1. The County AIS Prevention Aid is a standing appropriation and does not need to be reauthorized annually.

  2. The County AIS Prevention Aid has broad public support. In 2015 bills were introduced to repeal the funding and the legislature received thousands of phone calls, letters and emails in support of the County AIS Prevention Aid. Neither bill ever went to a vote in committee and both were pulled. Since then support has grown. No repeal bills were introduced in the 2016 Legislative Session.

  3. By building coalitions of active citizens around AIS work, resource managers and County boards increase both the effectiveness of AIS funding, and further ensure its permanence.
     

This state investment is leveraging increased local investment in lake protection. MN COLA and MLR conducted a survey of AIS partners across the state, and found that voluntary contributions to local AIS efforts have nearly doubled since the AIS Prevention Aid formula came on line. 

The County AIS Prevention Aid is working as intended and has already stopped the infestation of multiple lakes in Minnesota. Some basic numbers show the increase in protection due to the County AIS Prevention Aid from before the program (2013) to the first year following passage (2015.) 2015 is the first full year of Prevention Aid funding. The numbers for 2016 are not yet available.

                                                                                             2013       2015

Number of authorized inspectors in Minnesota.

      427

   810

Number of watercraft inspections.

      187,073    

344,099   

Number of watercraft where inspectors found an AIS issue.

      12,540

     31,121

These numbers are only part of the story. On lakes and rivers across the state inspectors have intercepted high risk or clearly infested watercraft prior to launch. This new funding is driving innovation, and expanding communication and education efforts. But most importantly, new civic partnerships are developing across sectors and political boundaries.  A few success stories to illustrate:

Increased Protection:

  • Four days before a scheduled sailboat regatta on Leech Lake the MN DNR realized they did not have available staff or equipment to provide inspection/decontamination. The Cass County AIS specialist Rima Smith Keprios jumped into action, scheduling a training on a donated sailboat and moving a Cass County decontamination unit into place for the event. These newly trained inspectors discovered four sailboats infested with live zebra mussels BEFORE they launched into Leech Lake. The boats were decontaminated and launched safely.

  • County Watercraft Inspector Kyle Daun discovered a patch of Zebra Mussels approximately 6’ long by 3’ wide on the bottom of a boat attempting to launch into Big Sandy Lake.  Kyle directed the owner to Willy’s Marina where his boat was decontaminated.  

  • The Crow Wing County Land Services Department inspected nearly 43,000 watercraft for AIS in 2015. Twenty of the inspections found zebra mussels.

  • Douglas County ramped up to 5,600 inspections and did 64 decontaminations of high risk or infested watercraft. They reported no new infestations in 2015.

The County AIS Prevention Aid has increased AIS Education across Minnesota. Said Rima Smith Keprios, the AIS Coordinator in Cass County, ”We have had great success in our efforts to assist and work with the Association of Cass County Lakes. Our Information and Education campaign where we partnered with Wildlife Forever and other counties to create the infomercials and PSAs targeting recreational water enthusiasts has produced first rate media that many other counties are now emulating or wish to emulate.“ The MN DNR reports that violations rates of AIS laws decreased from 17% in 2014 to 11.6% in 2015.

  • In 2016 the Aquatic Invaders Summit drew over 350 AIS active citizens, including marina owners, DNR personnel, Watershed and Soil and Water Conservation District employees, County Commissioners and local government officials, anglers, lake association officers and students from 65 counties, Wisconsin, Illinois, Montana and Canada for a two day intensive on national AIS programs.

County AIS Prevention Aid has driven a dramatic increase in collaboration, a trend that began at the 2015 Aquatic Invaders Summit and continued at the 20167 Summit.  In a survey 64% of Aid recipients reported that they were collaborating with neighboring counties to develop regional programs. Dave Rush, of Douglas County, held a meeting in April of 2016 bringing together the AIS task force members of the “Top Ten” recipients of County AIS Prevention Aid funding with the goal to partner in efforts that reduce AIS risk statewide. In the email invitation to this event, Mr. Rush wrote, “I believe now is a good time for us to gather and identify efforts that we’ve started in our counties or areas that can and should be improved on and disseminated Statewide, and issues/problems we all are experiencing that could be collectively addressed.”

The funding and partnerships that have developed are driving unprecedented innovation:

  • Hennepin County developed a programmable message board that switches between (a) AIS prevention messages (b) a Sheriff Advisory and (c) the time/temp.

  • In Cass County the AIS Task Force hired Dr. Pat Welle to conduct interviews with resort owners to determine their level of AIS knowledge, that of their guests, and assess risks. This has resulted in a study, and innovative protocols that help resort owners protect the lakes from AIS. Resort owners and Lake Association members are now partnering to prevent AIS spread in Cass County.

The County AIS Prevention Aid is an innovative and effective program.  Only in its second year of full funding, this program is leveraging partnerships, increased private investment and has already stopped infested watercraft from entering pristine lakes (saving untold millions). As these programs develop protection against AIS will increase. Most importantly, the County AIS Prevention Aid program is increasing the number of active and engaged citizen leaders working to “think zero,” and begin to achieve a zero spread of AIS. These local relationships will deepen over time, and expand to include other difficult local water problems.

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