Effectively addressing a major challenge takes leadership and organizational capacity. And the Vermilion Lake Association and the North St. Louis Soil and Water Conservation District are bringing those two components to the fight against aquatic invasive species.
There’s a lot at stake for lakes throughout Minnesota. Fisheries have been harmed by zebra mussels, including some of the state’s most significant walleye fisheries. Property values have plummeted on lakes hit by one of the newest problem invasive species, starry stonewort.
This aggressive plant literally chokes out everything where it becomes established, converting once pleasant lakeshore into an almost impenetrable green goo.
There are numerous other threats, some of which are already established in major lakes in our region, such as rusty crayfish and spiny waterfleas. But these invasive species, while significant, are more in the nuisance category in terms of their impacts. So far, lakes in our region have avoided the establishment of “game changers” like zebra mussels or starry stonewort.
The VLA and SWCD are aiming to keep it that way.
They’re getting help from the Legislature and St. Louis County, which have been providing substantial funding in recent years to help organizations step up their efforts. That’s helping groups like Wildlife Forever fund their ongoing education campaign, which includes a substantial presence in St. Louis County. It’s also helping the VLA and SWCD finance local efforts to increase boat inspections, to directly educate lake users, and to operate decontamination units around the region.
The AIS fight has been around for several years, but there is still a substantial learning curve. The VLA and SWCD have been organized and methodical as they’ve developed their strategies and are continuously adjusting as they learn more about what methods are effective and what efforts need improvement. As leaders in this fight, they recognize that their efforts will likely become a model for other parts of the state.
This is one fight where it pays to work together. Constant reinforcement of a consistent message is the best way to keep Minnesotans on their toes when it comes to the AIS threat. The fact is, Minnesotans love their lakes, and more than a few Minnesotans love more than one lake. And as they transport boats and equipment from one lake to another, the potential to spread aquatic invasives is ever present.
Preventing the spread isn’t rocket science, but it takes awareness of the threat and an understanding of the basic steps all lake users can undertake to minimize the risks. That’s where the VLA and SWCD have taken the lead. And they recognize they can’t do it alone, which is why they’ve been holding informational meetings for area business people in recent weeks. They know that business owners, particularly those who regularly interact with boat owners, are key to reinforcing the message, particularly with out-of-town or out-of-state visitors who may not be familiar with the AIS issue.
As Jeff Lovgren, the VLA’s AIS coordinator noted at one of the recent meetings with business owners, this fight really has to be a partnership. The VLA and the SWCD’s Emily Nelson are doing an outstanding job of bringing that partnership together. They are effectively deploying the resources made available to them and providing critical leadership in the AIS fight.