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BEMIDJI — Zebra mussels and faucet snails have found their way to Lake Winnibigoshish. Areas of Leech Lake are infested with Eurasian watermilfoil. Faucet snails also are established in First and Second Crow Wing lakes in Hubbard County.

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Spiny water fleas have become a problem in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Lake of the Woods.

Aquatic invasive species are all around the Bemidji area but, so far, they have not been established in any Beltrami County lakes. And area Department of Natural Resource officials would like to maintain that status.

“We’ve been fortunate. In this area we have not had any serious instances with invasive species,” said Bemidji Area DNR Fisheries Supervisor Gary Barnard.

“We have some rusty crayfish around but so far we’ve been lucky. Curly pondweed, spiny waterfleas, zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil are all in the area. We’re not in a panic mode but they are a concern and we are trying to be somewhat proactive in our invasive species prevention programs around here.”

DNR officials annually sample the state’s large lakes, trying to get a handle on everything from the walleye population to the status of the invertebrates that kick start the food chain.

Lake Winnie is one of the lakes on the list and last summer officials gathered 15 water samples which were analyzed earlier this year.

In one of the samples the officials discovered something they were hoping never to find: two veligers (larval zebra mussels).

The veligers are evidence that there is a reproducing population of zebra mussels in Lake Winnie and it is likely that, in time, all of the lakes downstream from the popular fishing and recreation lake will also be infested.

Fortunately, Lake Bemidji and Cass Lake are upstream from Winnie and, according to DNR aquatic invertebrate research scientist Gary Montz, the mussel is not likely to advance against the current.

“But that does not mean that the zebra mussels will never find their way to Bemidji, Cass Lake, Red Lake or the other area premier fishing waters.

 “Many people take day trips from Bemidji to Winnie so having zebra mussels in Winnie is a concern for us,” Barnard said.

“We monitor our area big lakes looking for invasive species and so far we are clean. But the concern is that they can move and be here before you know it.”

Invasive species are unable to move from one lake to another on their own but they are very good at hitching a free ride on a boat, motor, trailer or dock.

“It only takes one guy doing the wrong thing,” Barnard said of the possibility of invasive species becoming established in the Bemidji area. “People need to think about what can happen (if they do not take proper precautions).”

In Minnesota it is unlawful to transport any invasive species or infested water. It is also illegal to launch a watercraft with any plant or invasive species attached.

Preventing the spread of invasive species requires diligence, maintenance and some common sense.

“There are a number of ways that invasive species can be transferred,” Barnard said. “All it takes is a fragment of a plant. A virus and zebra mussels only need a little bit of water.”

When an angler purchases a fishing license he or she will receive a pamphlet which offers tips on how to slow the spread of invasive species. The tips include:

— Remove visible plants, animals and mud from your boat, trailer and other boating equipment before leaving the water access;

— Drain water from the boat, motor, live well and bait containers before leaving the access. You must remove the drain plug prior to leaving any water access;

— Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash. Never release live bait.

— Spray, rinse or dry boats and recreational equipment before transporting to another water body.

“Anglers should use common sense,” Barnard said. “Boaters may find lake monitors at the accesses but we can’t rely just on them. They are not there 24/7 so people have to be cognizant of what to do.

“We are taking preventative measures but everyone who is using the lakes and moving from one lake to another needs to be careful,” Barnard added.

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Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200
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