By Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN
May 22, 2020
ELY, Minn. - Late May signals the start of boating season in Minnesota, which includes one of the world's most well-known wilderness areas. But with the threat of aquatic invasive species, a new coalition is working to protect the Boundary Waters.
This collection of lakes in northern Minnesota has largely been spared from infestation, but it could be only a matter of time before that changes. Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, says several organizations and agencies have jurisdiction over the area, which can leave gaps.
He hopes this effort will close those gaps.
"The coalition has come together and it's using a civic-organizing approach," says Forester. "So, we're organizing people to help protect the Boundary Waters."
In addition to state, federal and tribal governments, the coalition includes civic groups and local residents.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says invasive species have been found in more than 1,100 waterways across the state. And while there have been some positive signs in lessening the impact, some worry the problem runs deeper.
In the Boundary Waters, only the spiny water flea has been detected.
In Minnesota, lake associations play a big role protecting waterways from infestation, assisting with things like boat inspections. But there aren't large associations in the Boundary Waters.
Matthew Santo, AIS tech with the 1854 Treaty Authority, says it can be a challenge getting the message through to boaters.
"One of the main projects we're focused on is increasing signage at the boat launches," says Santo, "just to give people information about invasive species, the risks involved."
Jeff Pike, a Boundary Waters-area resident who is part of the coalition, says while the groups involved have some competing interests, at the end of the day...
"We're all stewards of our lands, no matter where we're at," says Pike. "And the right thing is to try to keep the environment that we're in from being disrupted, and changed from external negative forces. And so, AIS falls right in there."
The coalition holds monthly meetings, conducted virtually right now because of the pandemic. An action plan is coming together that organizers hope will prevent any more infestations in the coming years.