Boat inspections increase at some Minnesota lakes, rivers to help stop invasive species spread

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MINNEAPOLIS — More boat inspectors are on patrol at Minnesota lakes and rivers to help stop the spread of invasive species, including zebra mussels, and authorities say they will be more aggressive about issuing fines to violators as they try to change boater behavior.

The Star Tribune reported ( ) that counties are also beefing up inspections, thanks to $10 million in state funds.

Greg Salo, of the Department of Natural Resources' enforcement division, said the state's 148 conservation officers are out issuing tickets over the holiday weekend. He said 17 percent of boaters stopped at checkpoints disobey rules.

"The first few years we tried to focus on education; it's kind of a culture change for people," Salo said. "But we've gotten to the point now, to get the rest of the public to change, we have to take a stronger approach."

More than 500 Minnesota rivers, lakes and wetlands are listed as infested, including more than 200 with zebra mussels, which can clarify water but also clog motors and hurt swimmers with their sharp shells.

Since a change in law in 2010, boaters are now required to remove the drain plug before transporting a boat. Boaters must also remove weeds and drain water from bait buckets and livewells, or risk a $100 to $150 fine. Transporting zebra mussels results in a $500 fine.

"It's really simple — just pull your plug and clean your boat; it takes less than five minutes to do that," Salo said. "It only takes one boat" to infect a lake.

Some counties and lake associations are taking things a step further.

Although Christmas Lake had been treated for zebra mussels, last week 10 mussels were removed from an untreated area. The homeowners association, one of the most aggressive in the state, is now seeking DNR approval to decontaminate every boat at the Shorewood access.

Other groups also want to expand monitoring. From Detroit Lakes to Lake Minnetonka, programs are recruiting residents to monitor water for the first signs of an unwanted species.

"People are starting to understand the gravity of the problem," said Barb Halbakken Fischburg of the Lake Detroiters Lake Association, which has 60 residents installing zebra mussel monitoring samplers in June. "Everybody has to be part of the solution."

Last week, crews on Lake Independence in Maple Plain applied potassium chloride, or potash, to kill off zebra mussels.

In Chanhassen, 10 Lake Minnewashta residents are voluntarily tying devices to their docks to help check for zebra mussels.

"If we're quick enough, like Christmas Lake, we might be able to contain them," said Steve Gunther, head of the lake homeowners association.

Information from: Star Tribune,

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