REGIONAL— The St. Louis County Board has given preliminary approval of grants totaling $727,750 in state funds for continuing the fight against aquatic invasive species. The Lake Vermilion and …
REGIONAL— The St. Louis County Board has given preliminary approval of grants totaling $727,750 in state funds for continuing the fight against aquatic invasive species. The Lake Vermilion and Burntside lake associations, the North St. Louis Soil and Water Conservation District and Wildlife Forever are among the major recipients of the funding. The board is expected to give final approval of the funding on Tuesday, Feb. 6.
All of these organizations have been engaged in a coordinated, multi-year effort to prevent the introduction of invasive species into the region’s premier lakes. The largest single grant, totaling $391,350 to the Soil and Water Conservation District, will continue to fund watercraft inspections, decontamination efforts, and public education on Vermilion and Burntside, as well as Shagawa, Pelican, and Ely lakes. The SWCD proposes to significantly increase the number of boat inspections and boat decontaminations in the region in 2018. Last year, SWCD workers inspected 20,720 boats, mostly on Vermilion and Burntside, and have set a goal to inspect 29,000 boats in 2018. They also hope to more than double the number of boat decontaminations, from 594 conducted last year, to 1,430.
The Vermilion Lake Association, which has been a leader in the fight against aquatic invasives in the region, will receive $59,000 in ongoing funding for its efforts, which include boat inspections, early detection, and education.
The Burntside Lake Association, which will receive $26,000, will pursue a similar plan of action.
Jeff Lovgren, who oversees the VLA’s aquatic species work, said the latest round of funding will allow for a continuation of existing efforts, even as those efforts evolve over time. “Our 2018 plan doesn’t represent a dramatic change,” said Lovgren. “We’re still doing the same things, just doing them differently as we learn some things work and some things don’t. We try to work smarter to be more effective.”
Among the modifications this year is an updating of the VLA’s priorities, which elevates the invasive plant, starry stonewort, as the organization’s top concern. Zebra mussels, which had topped the group’s priority list in previous years, have dropped somewhat as it now appears likely that the low calcium levels in Canadian Shield lakes, like Vermilion, offers some protection against the establishment of this invasive mussel, which has devastated other aquatic systems elsewhere in the U.S.
In addition, said Lovgren, VLA is stepping up its early detection efforts, particularly as the focus shifts to invasive plants. The organization has established a network of local monitors who conduct regular inspections in the water surrounding boat launches, to detect the presence of invasive plants.
In addition to the latest county grant, the VLA obtained two additional grants last October from the Initiative Foundation. Those grants, totaling $93,000, are helping to fund some pilot initiatives to improve boat inspection efficiency on Vermilion public accesses. “These plants generally take root near the entry point,” said Lovgren, and when caught early enough, control measures can usually eradicate the problem before it spreads.
Each year, through the AIS Prevention Aid Program, the Legislature provides funding to counties to allocate to organizations that will participate in AIS research, control, prevention and education activities.
Aquatic invasive species disrupt the health of water bodies, and pose a myriad of threats to natural, cultural and recreational resources of the region. Since 2014, the county has appropriated more than $3.1 million in state funds to combat aquatic invasive species.