Dayton, lawmakers look to fight invasive species
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota policymakers want to quickly launch a long-discussed war on plants and animals invading the state.
Asian carp, including ones that jump out of the water and hit boaters, are the most publicized invasive species. While those carp have not arrived in Minnesota, much smaller zebra mussels, spiny waterfleas and the Eurasian watermilfoil plant already are common in areas.
"Once they take over, it is too late," Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday as he joined lawmakers to support a $4 million-a-year plan to fight the invasion. "It is a crisis prevention strategy."
Invasive species have been discovered in more than 1,000 lakes and streams across the state, destroying fish habitat, driving out native species and, eventually, damaging the tourism industry.
"It is a bit of a silent plague," Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said.
Sen. Tom Saxhaug of Grand Rapids said he wants the bill to pass before ice disappears from Minnesota lakes.
Democrats Dayton, Saxhaug and Rep. John Ward of Brainerd would fund their proposal by adding a surcharge of $5 to $15 to three-year canoe and boat licenses.
Funding is where the political problem lies. Republicans have vowed not to raise taxes or fees.
"If there is a fee bill that has a chance, this would be the one," said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, who leads a Senate environment committee.
However, he and his House committee chairman counterpart, Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, are working on a proposal to fund the invasive species fight with money obtained from a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008. Ingebrigtsen said he is optimistic that funding will be found for the battle.
"We have got to get out front," he said of the problem.
Seven lakes in Ingebrigtsen's area are infested with zebra mussels and 19 lakes statewide.
It is important to stop the spread of invasive species now, Ingebrigtsen and Saxhaug said, before they end in water statewide.
"The spread of zebra mussels and Asian carp must be addressed before it affects our lakes and ultimately Minnesota tourism, one of our biggest industries," Saxhaug said.
Some of the funding Saxhaug's bill provides would add the equivalent of six new conservation officers to make sure boaters follow state rules requiring boats to be cleaned when moved from one body of water to another. Experts say that is the best way to get rid of what they call "aquatic hitchhikers."
The bill also increases penalties for violating laws designed to prevent species transfer.
A separate Dayton proposal would spend $16 million to upgrade a Coon Rapids dam in the northwestern Twin Cities, a key to keep Asian carp out of northern Minnesota waters. The Mississippi River dam is called the last chance to stop the carp.
"Once that divide is crossed by these monsters, there is very little we can do," Dayton said.
Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.