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TAKING AIM AT AIS: Protecting Leech Lake is top priority

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WALKER - In 2004, Eurasian water milfoil was discovered in harbors located on the southern shoreline of Leech Lake.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials spot treated those locations with herbicides in an attempt to contain the invasive plant, and the treatments probably did slow the spread.

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It appears, however, that the Eurasian water milfoil (EWM) has won the battle as other patches have been discovered in the lake.

"We pretty much are seeing (EWM) in many areas of the lake," said DNR Area Fisheries Supervisor Doug Schultz, who is based in Walker. "We're continuing to treat harbors just to limit its spread to other waters but (EWM) has certainly made the rounds in Leech Lake."

Eurasian water milfoil has taken root in Leech Lake and, unfortunately, is gradually becoming part of the lake's ecosystem. The lake's user groups are dealing with the invasive plant and are making the best of the situation. The key to living with EWM, however, is preventing any other invasive species to complicate the picture.

"The question is how well will Eurasian water milfoil do if we are able to keep the other invasive species out," Schultz said. "If we are genuine about passing the quality of life on to the next generation, then we need to take the issue of invasive species very seriously.

"It (preventing the spread of AIS) needs to be a collaborative effort of all the groups," Schultz continued. "Everybody realizes the importance and the impact our lakes have on the area and preventing the spread (of AIS) is a responsibility we all share."

Matt Ward is the DNR large lake specialist who studies Leech Lake. He believes that the best way to slow the spread of AIS is to approach the problem head on.

"Nobody likes change but change is inevitable," Ward said. "Invasive species are not things to be afraid of but we do need to adjust our approach and have a different mindset in today's world. As stakeholders, we first need to understand that AIS can cause significant change to our aquatic resources and that further introductions can be prevented.

"Prevention efforts are much less costly than managing the invasive species once they get here."

With zebra mussels discovered in Lake Winnibigogish, spiny water flea in Lake of the Woods and Lake Mille Lacs home to Eurasian water milfoil, spiny water flea and zebra mussels, protecting Leech Lake from further invasion will be difficult. And, if those invaders find their way to Leech Lake, the consequences are uncertain.

"With zebra mussels in Winnie and spiny water flea in Lake of the Woods, we get many questions from the user groups about what would happen on Leech," Ward said. "Every lake reacts differently to invasive species and we won't know the true effects on Leech for some time."

"But things would eventually change," Schultz added. "The question is who will be the winners and who will be the losers.

"The lake systems as a whole are in very good shape and are in a better position to absorb the introduction of a single invasive species," Schultz continued. "But when more than one species is introduced it is like a boxer who is taking punches from all over. The effects become increasingly visible as the punch total mounts."

State officials do not want Leech Lake or any other body of water to take those punches and the best way to protect the state's water systems is to educate the public. A key tool in the education process is the monitors stationed throughout the state at the lake accesses

"We owe it to the next generations to do what we can to slow and stop (AIS) and the lake monitors are buying us time," Schultz said. "To say (AIS spread) is inevitable bypasses the need to take responsibility.

"Minnesota is so blessed with the quality of the lakes and streams that it would be a shame to let our crown jewels be diminished if we don't have to."

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Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200
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